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Are recent undocumented immigrants voting in mass numbers in US elections? TAYO examines this viral narrative that combines two hot button issues.

Are recent undocumented immigrants voting in mass numbers in US elections? TAYO examines this viral narrative that combines two hot button issues.

Claim: Undocumented immigrants in the United States are voting by the millions in federal elections and swaying the results towards Democrats.

What is the claim about?

This claim combines two of the hottest issues amongst Republicans and Conservatives in the 2024 election cycle: immigration and election integrity.

The claim states that the recent surge in illegal immigration into the United States, which by some estimates has seen upwards of seven million migrants come into the country illegally in the last year alone, is actually a calculated plan by President Joe Biden and Democrats to sign up millions of new voters and help sway the upcoming presidential election in their favor. 

Prominent figures within conservative circles, including former President Donald Trump, have been pushing the claim in speeches, official papers,  and on social media.  

Prior to the Iowa Caucuses in January, Trump made the claim numerous times on the campaign trail.

“I think they really are doing it because they want to sign these people up to vote. I really do,” Trump said at a rally in Mason City, Iowa. “They can’t speak a word of English for the most part, but they’re signing them up.” He offered no evidence of his claims.

NPR recently uncovered a memo being circulated by Cleta Mitchell, a former adviser to Trump, laying out "the threat of non-citizen voting in 2024."

"I absolutely believe this is intentional, and one of the reasons the Biden administration is allowing all these illegals to flood the country," NPR reported Mitchell saying on a conservative radio show in Illinois last February. "They're taking them into counties across the country, so that they can get those people registered, they can vote them." Mitchell offered no evidence that any of this was actually occurring. 

The claim is rampant across prominent social media channels such as Tiktok, Youtube, Telegram and X(formerly Twitter.) The phrase “they are importing voters” has been used widely on X. Elon Musk, the owner of X, has promoted the narrative to his millions of followers. 

“Treason indeed!” Musk wrote in a post about undocumented immigrants on March 5 which has been seen more than 23 million times. “Ushering in vast numbers of illegals is why Secretary Mayorkas was impeached by the House. They are importing voters. This is why groups on the far left fight so hard to stop voter ID requirements, under the absurd guise of protecting the right to vote.”

Is this claim new?

No. In fact Trump and other conservatives have been making this claim going as far back as the 2016 election. Even though Trump won that election by defeating Hilary Clinton, the new president claimed that the reason Clinton won 2.8 million more votes than he did was because nearly 3 million votes were cast by undocumented immigrants. Trump has never provided any evidence to back up this claim.  

Former President Donald Trump has continually repeated that false claim that undocumented immigrants are voting in the hundreds of thousands and tipping the balance of elections to Democrats. Credit: White House via Picryl.com

Trump also blamed undocumented immigrants voting by the tens of thousands for his loss to Biden in the 2020 election. Despite producing no evidence, the former president claimed that his loss to Biden in Arizona by just over 10,000 votes was the result of 36,000 non-citizens voting in the state. 

Trump’s personal lawyer, Rudy Giuliani, took that claim a step further and said regarding the number of non-citizen voters in Arizona in the 2020 election,  “the bare minimum is 40 or 50,000,” and “the reality is probably about 250,000.”

Non-citizens voting was quite normal in the years after America’s founding

In a study entitled Democracy For All, Ron Hayduk, an expert on non-citizen voting at San Francisco State University, states that from the late 1770’s until the 1820’s, voting requirements in the United States were not tied to citizenship.

“Voting by non-citizens was widely practiced going as far back as the founding of America in the colonial period,” Hayduk wrote. “In fact as many as forty states and federal territories at one point or another allowed noncitizens to vote.  

“Voting rights were instead predominantly tied to property, gender, and race. Alien suffrage was compatible with the exclusion of other categories of residents (men without property, women, and blacks), and actually buttressed the privileging of propertied white male Christians.”

In other words, non-citizens who fit the profile of land owner, white, male and Christian, were allowed to vote, even if they were not citizens, while other actual citizens who were considered undesirables were not. 

Non citizen voting rights were expanded during times that the new country had an endless thirst for expansion and far flung territories needed voters. It was also practical. It was a way to entice settlers to move to new lands and territories.

 However, these rights were rolled back during periods of mass immigration for fear of immigrants and how they might change or alter the current power structures.  This was the case after the mass migration between 1880 and 1910, which saw 12.5 million people stream into the country from Southern and eastern Europe. Suddenly voting registration laws were widely implemented as a means to thwart the wave of new immigrants who didn’t speak English, weren’t the right color, or religion. 

Non-citizen voting was a common practice in the early days of America and was tied predominantly to property ownership, gender(male), race(white) and religion(Christian). Credit: Wikipedia

Today, no state constitutions explicitly allowed noncitizens to vote in state or local elections. As of June 2023, seven states specified that noncitizens may not vote in state and local elections: Alabama, Arizona, Colorado, Florida, Louisiana, North Dakota, and Ohio.[2]

The District of Columbia and municipalities in three states allow noncitizens to vote in local elections as of June 2023: California, Maryland, and Vermont. Those noncitizens that are allowed to vote in local elections generally have to be green card holders and have resided in a locale for a certain period of time. 

Is there any truth to the claims of non-citizens voting by the millions in American elections today?

The claims that undocumented immigrants and other non-citizens are voting by the millions have been proven false across a wide range of platforms including prominent media outlets, official state audits of their elections, failed court cases brought by Trump, think tanks and policy institutes. There have been isolated cases of non-citizens voting, and the practice does occur in every election. But their numbers are a miniscule fraction of the total vote count and are certainly not reflective of any attempt at mass voting by non-citizens..

In 2016 the Brennan Center For Justice conducted a nationwide study of noncitizen or fraudulent voting by analyzing 23.5 million votes across 42 jurisdictions. The study revealed that election officials referred only an estimated 30 incidents of suspected noncitizen voting for further investigation or prosecution. In other words, improper noncitizen votes accounted for 0.0001 percent of the 2016 votes in those jurisdictions.

More recently a Georgia audit of its voter rolls conducted in 2022 found fewer than 2,000 instances of noncitizens attempting to register to vote over a 25 year span. None of those who attempted to register succeeded. 

Prior to the 2022 midterm election in Colorado, the secretary of state’s office mistakenly sent postcards to about 30,000 noncitizens who had driver’s licenses encouraging them to register to vote. The office sent a second postcard notifying these noncitizens about the error and worked with county clerks to ensure the ineligible voters did not register.

The Heritage Foundation’s analysis of legal actions regarding election conduct found only 24 instances of noncitizens voting between 2003 and 2023. 

"There is zero evidence that institutionally the Democratic Party has been doing this(signing up undocumented immigrants to vote)," said Mike Madrid, a longtime Republican strategist in California who produces the Latino Vote podcast with Chuck Rocha, a Democratic political consultant in an interview with WRAL TV in North Carolina.

Noncitizens who vote could face serious consequences

Voting by non-citizens carries extremely high risks. A federal law  passed in 1996 explicitly bans noncitizens from voting in federal elections, including races for president, vice president, Senate or House of Representatives. This Federal law does not apply to elections at the state and local levels.

The 1996 law states that noncitizens who vote illegally will face a fine, imprisonment or both. Non-citizens who cast a ballot and get caught may also face deportation and may be banned for life from ever applying for an immigrant visa. 

When people in the U.S. register to vote, they confirm under penalty of perjury that they are U.S. citizens. Several states also verify registration against federal and state databases.

All this leads to the obvious conclusion. If you are undocumented, you want to do everything in your power to avoid having to deal with the government on any matter. 

"They(undocumented immigrants) are not going to go register to vote and expose themselves," said Madrid, the Republican strategist.

The penalties are also steep for a political party or volunteer who would try to sign up an ineligible voter.

"There are so many millions of citizens of eligible voting age, Latinos, that are not registered," Madrid said. “It makes more sense to focus on them.”

Conclusion

There is no evidence that non-citizens are voting in US elections by the millions, in the tens of thousands, or even in the thousands. Non-citizen voting or registering to vote does occur in extremely small numbers compared to the total number of votes counted. Usually, this is due to people being unsure of their eligibility, or mistakes by election officials. However, the claim that the practice is a conspiracy and is happening on a vast scale that could tip elections towards Democrats is false. 

This article was written and edited by the Tayo editorial desk and has been reviewed by an independent panel of subject matter experts.

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