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Illegal Alien Voting Isn’t Swaying Federal Elections

Walter Olson

voter, ballot

I’ve got a new piece in the Unpopulist debunking claims that have lately made the rounds that noncitizens vote in large numbers in federal elections even though it is unlawful in every state for them to do so.

I cite audits of the topic undertaken in states like Nevada, Georgia, and North Carolina; an extensive 2017 survey of election administrators asking about problems observed in their jurisdictions; the general failure of both law enforcement and private watchdog groups to turn up more than incidental numbers of such voters; the failure of statistical tests of voting patterns to yield results consistent with widespread noncitizen voting; the outcomes of state screening and database matching; and the incentives at work on both sides (potential lawbreakers, and prosecutors and political actors with the means to document fraud). I write:

The claim that illegal voting is swaying American elections is nothing if not sensational. Those who levy sensational charges should bear the burden of proving them. But they haven’t. It’s just assertion after assertion, with no refutation of the considerable evidence to the contrary.

Over the past four years, through a long succession of court cases, audits, and studies, the props have been kicked out from under #StopTheSteal contention one after another: that voting machine tabulations are being hacked, that hordes of dead or nonexistent persons or ineligible felons vote, and on and on. Now we’re on to a claim of massive noncitizen voting that cleverly dovetails with public anxiety over immigration generally.

It’s worth distinguishing claims of massive current fraud from two separate and less implausible claims that also circulate. One is that immigration patterns may affect electoral politics over the long term in an entirely legal way because some share of immigrants eventually achieve naturalization, and because children born here to immigrants eventually grow up into voters. More on this set of issues from Alex Nowrasteh and co‐​authors here and here.

Another claim is that because the US Constitution mandates that congressional representation be apportioned according to “the whole number of persons in each state,” immigrant‐​heavy districts can enjoy representation disproportionate to their number of citizen residents. But as colleague David Bier has pointed out, under current conditions, in which many arrivals head for Republican states and areas, this appears to make little partisan difference. One estimate of the effect of removing unauthorized immigrants from apportionment, should the Constitution be changed to make that happen, would be to reshuffle a handful of seats between states, with approximately no impact on the balance between red and blue states.

I conclude:

Bogus claims of widespread voter fraud, even when they do not stoke hatred and fear of the foreign‐​born, are grossly irresponsible. They exacerbate polarization and malign honest election administrators. Most of all, they undermine public confidence in our election system. The more people believe elections are rigged, the more they are likely to turn their discontents in a direction other than electoral politics. Some will go the passive route of resignation, withdrawing from civic involvements, making themselves the perfect subjects for strongman rule. Others will turn to militia activity or outright violence.

Either way, the consequences for the American experiment in liberal democratic self‐​rule will be unfortunate.

Read the whole thing here.







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