Vermont paused its automatic voter registration after a Department of Motor Vehicles glitch accidentally registered green card holders to vote. Given that it is illegal for green card holders in the United States to register to vote, the error caused a social media speculation storm after these green card holders in Vermont were mailed notifications that they had been registered to vote. Many, knowing they had not actually registered to vote themselves, feared that they were being targeted by Trump agents. Illegally registering to vote can lead to deportation.
The timing seemed too coincidental, according to Seven Days, a Vermont news source that explained that the erroneous voter registration really just coincided with Vermont’s grand unveiling of its new automatic voter registration system. Seven Days excused the public concern, given a heightened level of anxiety among the non-citizen and immigrant communities.
“At a time of heightened anxiety in immigrant and non-citizen communities — not to mention President Donald Trump’s obsession with voter fraud — the mystery mailings inspired some justifiable conspiracy theorizing on social media. Is this a plot by Trump agents looking to set up non-Americans for voter fraud?”
Vermont news sources explained the glitch in early February, but the rumors persist on social media sites like Facebook. The public became concerned after a Facebook post described the fears of a green card holder who was referred to only as “Luke” made its way around social media, Seven Days reported.
“The letter identified the Department of Motor Vehicles as the agency that registered him on January 23 — though he hadn’t visited the DMV since 2013, the post said. Aware that he cannot legally vote in the United States, Luke got it straightened out, per the post, but the question remained: Had others had a similar experience?”
Vermont Deputy Secretary of State Chris Winters promptly responded to one of the Facebook posts and explained the posts’ legitimacy, while also assuring the public that the Vermont Secretary of State attributed the error to a data glitch at the DMV. Vermont had just rolled out the pilot program for automatic voter registration. Vermont Secretary of State Jim Condos reportedly issued a statement that confirmed that a DMV data transfer process which was being used to roll out the new automatic voter registration program was “over-inclusive” for two and a half weeks between January 3 and January 20, 2017. Individuals who were ineligible to vote were mistakenly automatically registered to vote.
“We regret the error and look forward to resuming automatic voter registration soon,” Condos wrote. “Those who were mistakenly registered through this coding error have not violated the law and will be purged from the system.”
Vermont Department of Motor Vehicles Michael Smith said that he was only aware of four people who had been registered to vote this way, according to Burlington Free Press. The program had already been temporarily shut down to correct the error before the issue became semi-viral on social media.
“I know this is a hot button issue these days with what’s coming out of Washington,” Condos explained. “This was an error DMV found in the system. They notified us. We immediately pulled the plug.”
Burlington Free Press identified Luke, the green card holder who became anxious after receiving notification that he had been registered to vote, as Burlington resident Luke McHale. In McHale’s situation, a car registration address change erroneously triggered the automatic voter registration.
[Featured Image by Susan Walsh/AP Images]