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Demystifying Non-Citizen Voting in U.S. Federal Elections

Separating fact from fiction in the controversy of non-citizen voting

May 17, 2024

An immigrant casts his vote in the the U.S. presidential election.

The issue of non-citizen voting in U.S. federal elections has become a heated topic in American politics. While some claim it is a critical problem requiring immediate action, a closer examination reveals a more complex reality.

Key Facts about non-citizen voting in the U.S.

Understanding the SAVE Act 2024

In recent years, the issue of non-citizen voting has gained increased attention. Former President Donald Trump, in particular, has been vocal in amplifying concerns about the alleged prevalence of non-citizens casting ballots in federal elections. This narrative has been echoed by other Republican lawmakers, leading to the introduction of legislation aimed at addressing the perceived problem.

One such example is the SAVE Act 2024, put forth by a group of representatives conservative-leaning states across the U.S. The bill seeks to end the practice of non-citizen voting in U.S. elections, despite a lack of substantial evidence indicating that this is a widespread issue requiring urgent legislative action.

During a recent press conference, House Speaker Mike Johnson (R-La.) admitted to reporters that his claims about voter fraud were lacking concrete evidence.

“We all know – intuitively – that a lot of illegals are voting in federal elections. But it’s not been something that is easily provable,” Johnson told reporters without offering evidence to support the claim.

This acknowledgment highlights the challenges in providing real evidence to support the necessity of measures like the SAVE Act 2024. Critics argue that these efforts may be more politically motivated than grounded in empirical data, raising questions about the necessity and effectiveness of such measures in ensuring the integrity of the electoral process.

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States already have safeguards in place to prevent non-citizens from voting

States already have safeguards in place to prevent non-citizens from voting. Voter registration forms in every state, except North Dakota, ask about citizenship status. If an individual answers “no” to being a U.S. citizen, they are not permitted to vote. States also cross-reference information provided on registration forms with government records to verify the identity of potential voters. Providing false information on these forms carries severe penalties, including fines, imprisonment, and even deportation for non-citizens.

Currently, Arizona is the only state that requires documentary proof of citizenship (DPOC) for people seeking to vote in state or local elections. However, some states have attempted to implement additional requirements for registrants to prove U.S. citizenship, but federal courts have blocked many of these efforts.

In 2004, Arizona voters approved a ballot measure requiring registrants to provide DPOC, such as a birth certificate or naturalization paperwork, to have their voter registration approved. The U.S. Supreme Court later blocked the enforcement of this provision for federal elections, holding that Congress has the primary authority to set the rules for federal elections under the Constitution.

In 2022, the Arizona legislature passed a law imposing new restrictions, including prohibiting voters from participating in federal presidential elections and from voting by mail in federal elections unless they provide DPOC. On February 29, 2024, a federal district court issued its final ruling, concluding that these provisions of the Arizona law and several others violate federal laws and may not be enforced.

As of March 2024, 11 states are considering legislation that would introduce similar DPOC requirements, but the constitutionality of these proposed measures is uncertain. For example, Kansas passed legislation in 2015 to require DPOC for voter registration, but the law was ruled unconstitutional in the Federal Court and later turned down by the Supreme Court.

Challenges and Unintended Consequences of the SAVE Act 2024

According to the Department of Homeland Security, as of April 2023, approximately 52% of Americans with state-issued driver’s licenses and identification cards have a Real ID-compliant document. This means that nearly half of the country’s population, approximately 164 million people, do not currently possess the required identification to meet the SAVE Act 2024’s proposed requirements.

The Real ID program has been repeatedly delayed, with the most recent extension pushing the enforcement date to May 7, 2025. This delay was implemented to address the lingering impacts of the COVID-19 pandemic on the ability to obtain a Real ID-compliant driver’s license or identification card, as many states’ agencies experienced processing backlogs and shifted to appointment-only availability.

With nearly half of the U.S. population currently lacking a Real ID-compliant document, the proposed requirements of the SAVE Act 2024 could affect a significant number of eligible U.S. citizens. Policymakers would need to consider the implementation timeline and ensure that all Americans have the opportunity to obtain the necessary identification before enforcing strict voter identification requirements.

Where Non-Citizens Can Vote

In a handful of cities and towns across California, Maryland, Vermont, and the District of Columbia, non-citizens are permitted to vote in certain local elections, such as school board or city council races. However, these instances are limited, and non-citizens are never allowed to participate in statewide or national elections. Local election officials maintain separate voter lists to ensure non-citizens are not included in statewide databases.

The Bottom Line

While maintaining electoral integrity is crucial, policy decisions should be based on objective data and foster an inclusive democracy. Policymakers must carefully consider the potential impact of new voter identification requirements on eligible U.S. citizens and ensure that any measures to strengthen election security are accompanied by efforts to make it easy and affordable for all Americans to obtain the necessary documentation. By basing decisions on objective data and working to maintain an accessible, secure, and fair electoral system, the United States can uphold the integrity of its elections while protecting the voting rights of all eligible citizens.

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