President Trump, in his State of the Union speech Tuesday night, broadly and wrongly portrayed illegal immigrants as murderers, rapists and drug dealers who must be stopped. But Trump does not limit his anti-immigrant zeal to them. In service to Trump, authorities are now handcuffing and shackling noncitizens – including those here legally and those who thought they were following the law – for voting.
Robert Higdon Jr., the U.S. attorney for eastern North Carolina appointed by Trump, had 20 noncitizens rounded up and charged last August for improperly voting in the 2016 election, the Washington Post reported.
It was a feeble attempt to prove Trump's claim of widespread illegal voting, and a shining example of misplaced priorities. After all, Higdon was chasing this handful of legal residents even as he ignored repeated claims of absentee ballot fraud in North Carolina's 9th District – fraud that actually may have swayed an election.
Higdon's targets, the Post said, included people like Jose Solano-Rodriguez, who never sought to register to vote but who voted after receiving a card from the Wake County Board of Elections saying he was registered. It also included Alessandro Cannizzaro, an Italian who has lived in the Raleigh area legally since 2000. He applied for citizenship in 2003, passed the test, but did not take the oath because he was told the room was too full, the Post reported.
To be sure, it's wrong for noncitizens to vote, and the fact that a handful did so raises questions about whether county boards and the state board of elections have proper procedures in place to prevent it. The state board vowed in 2017 to improve on that front and made some changes for the 2018 elections. That said, an audit of the 2016 election found that 41 noncitizens voted in North Carolina out of 4.5 million votes cast – less than one one-thousandth of one percent. (The Post does not say why the other 21 were not charged.)
But if Trump is going to back up his claim that at least 3 million illegal immigrants voted in 2016, he has to try something. With 41 voting illegally in North Carolina, that suggests less than 2,000 did nationwide, a far cry from 3 million.
While Higdon was threatening a couple dozen legal residents with deportation over a relatively minor offense, questions were repeatedly raised about absentee ballot fraud in the 9th District's Bladen and Robeson counties.
But Higdon did not aggressively dedicate his office's resources to that. U.S. attorneys, district attorneys, police – all authorities have to decide where to allocate their limited resources, what to prioritize and what not to. For Higdon, the choice was clear. When he took office in August 2017, Attorney General Jeff Sessions was urging prosecutors to go after immigration-related crimes, and Higdon was apparently happy to oblige.
After the arrests, Higdon subpoenaed the state elections board and others for some 15 million documents related to foreign-born voter applicants. After spending considerable taxpayer money on the arrests, Higdon then wanted to spend more burrowing down this document rabbit hole. His office and the state agreed this week to limit the request to data on 789 voters.
Higdon's efforts are a waste of time and money. They target extremely low-level offenders. And they let real voter fraud go undetected.
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