Here’s Why Republicans Are Focusing on Voting by Noncitizens

Here’s Why Republicans Are Focusing on Voting by Noncitizens

House Republicans are pushing legislation to crack down on voting by noncitizens, part of an effort to sow doubts about the election outcome and take aim at immigrants who they say have no business participating in elections in the United States.

They are planning on Wednesday to push through a bill that would roll back a Washington, D.C., law allowing noncitizen residents of the nation’s capital to vote in local elections. And they are pushing legislation that would require states to obtain proof of citizenship, such as a birth certificate or passport, in person when registering an individual to vote and require states to remove noncitizens from voter rolls.

Neither is likely to pass the Democratic-led Senate or be signed by President Biden, but both are ways for Republicans to call attention to their false claims of widespread illegal voting by noncitizens.

Former President Donald J. Trump has long claimed in the face of evidence to the contrary that presidential and congressional elections are susceptible to widespread voter fraud and illegal voting by undocumented immigrants who have skewed the outcomes in favor of Democrats — a charge that House Republicans have echoed.

Here are the facts about noncitizen voting and the false claims that foreign nationals swing close elections in one party’s favor.

There has long been a policy debate in the United States about whether voting rights should be afforded at the municipal level to foreign nationals regardless of immigration status, as most of them pay comparable levels of taxes to U.S. citizens, contribute to their local economies and send their children to local schools.

Residents with foreign passports can cast ballots for candidates for mayor, school board, city council and commissioner in at least 14 municipalities whose state constitutions do not explicitly ban noncitizens from voting in local contests. Nearly all of the towns are in the deep-blue states of Maryland, Vermont and California.

Most local measures giving ballot access to noncitizens face court challenges. One such law in San Francisco that survived a legal challenge allows undocumented parents to vote for the members of their public school board. But in 2022, the New York State Supreme Court struck down a New York City law that gave partial voting rights to more than 800,000 noncitizens.

Noncitizens rarely cast ballots in local elections even when they are allowed to do so. In Washington, D.C., where roughly 15 percent of the 700,000 residents are foreign-born, only around 500 noncitizens had registered to vote as of Monday, according to data provided by the District of Columbia Board of Elections. The District has more than 400,000 registered voters.

Although noncitizens can vote in some local elections, they are barred by law from voting in federal elections for president or Congress, and research shows it almost never happens.

A study by the Brennan Center for Justice at New York University looked at 23.5 million votes cast in the 2016 presidential election in more than 40 jurisdictions and found only 30 incidents of potential noncitizen voting — or 0.0001 percent of the votes cast.

An audit by the state of Georgia conducted in 2022 reached a similar conclusion after finding fewer than 1,700 cases of noncitizens attempting to register to vote in the previous 25 years. None of them were allowed to vote.

David Becker, the director for the Center for Election Innovation and Research, a nonpartisan nonprofit organization, said states had been “very effective” in ensuring that only U.S. citizens remain on the voter rolls for federal elections. That’s largely because of the Real ID act, which has required states to verify residents’ immigration or citizenship status before issuing an official identification card.

“There’s never been more transparency around these elections, and that’s verifiable,” Mr. Becker said. “There are very, very few people for whom citizenship status cannot be confirmed.”

Registering to vote draws the highest level of scrutiny from state officials and law enforcement, something that undocumented immigrants or those whose legal status in the United States is unsettled are exceedingly unlikely to want.

Those who have studied the topic say that immigrants have every reason to avoid calling attention to themselves in that way. Voting illegally is a felony that could entail jail time, a fine and deportation.

If a noncitizen “was caught registering to vote, or voting — this is actually a question on the citizenship exam — they will be deported,” Mr. Becker said.

A witness at a House hearing last week on election integrity cited a faulty report from 2020 suggesting that around 15 percent of noncitizens routinely vote in federal elections. The estimate, to which election-deniers often refer, is based on an earlier study whose survey data appeared to indicate that a significant chunk of foreign nationals voted in 2008.

But those numbers are a result of unscientific cherry-picking from a survey of just 20,000 people designed for a different purpose, said Walter Olson, a senior fellow at the libertarian Cato Institute, a Washington-based think tank. A close look at the survey results shows that most of the respondents who said they were foreign nationals and had voted in the past were in fact American citizens who had mistakenly chosen the wrong answer to the citizenship question.

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