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Noncitizen voting becomes a center of 2024 GOP messaging

NEW YORK (AP) — A political party is holding urgent news conferences and congressional hearings on the subject. The other says it is a dangerous diversion intended to sow doubt ahead of this year’s presidential election.

These last months, the specter of immigrants voting illegally in the United States has become one of the biggest election year talking points for Republicans. They argue that legislation is necessary to protect the sanctity of the vote as the country faces unprecedented levels of illegal immigration on the US-Mexico border.

Voting by people who are not already U.S. citizens is illegal in federal elections and there is no indication that it is happening in significant numbers. Yet Republican lawmakers at the federal and state levels are pouring all their energy into this problem, introducing laws and measures in the fall elections. This activity ensures that the issue will remain at the forefront of voters’ minds in the months to come.

Congressional Republicans are pushing a bill called SAVE (Safeguard American Voter Eligibility) that would require proof of citizenship to register to vote. Meanwhile, Republican legislatures in at least six states have placed non-citizen voting measures on the Nov. 5 ballot, while at least two others are debating whether to do so.

“American elections are for American citizens, and we intend to keep it that way,” House Administration Committee Chairman Bryan Steil of Wisconsin said at a hearing he hosted on the subject last week.

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Democrats on the commission blasted their Republican colleagues for focusing on what they called a “non-issue,” arguing it was part of a strategy with former President Donald Trump to prepare for the ground for electoral protests this fall.

“It appears the lesson Republicans learned from the former president’s 2020 fiasco was not ‘Don’t steal an election,’ but simply ‘Start early,’” said New York Rep. Joe Morelle, the committee’s top Democrat. “The coup starts here. This is where it starts.

The fear that immigrants who do not have the right to vote will vote illegally has prevailed on the right for years. But the issue gained renewed interest earlier this year when Trump began suggest without proof that Democrats were encouraging illegal immigration to the United States so they could register new arrivals to vote.

Republicans who have come out in favor of non-citizen voting balked when asked for evidence that it was a problem. Last week, during a press conference on his federal legislation requiring proof of citizenship during voter registration, House Speaker Mike Johnson I was unable to provide examples of crimes committed.

“There’s no answer,” the Louisiana Republican said in response to a question about whether these people were voting illegally. “We all know intuitively that many illegal immigrants vote in federal elections, but this is not easy to prove.”

Election administration experts say not only is it provable, but the number of non-citizens voting in federal elections has been shown to be infinitesimal.

To be clear, there have been cases over the years where non-citizens illegally registered and even voted. But states have mechanisms to detect this. Ohio Secretary of State Frank LaRose recently found 137 suspected non-citizens on the state’s rolls — out of about 8 million voters — and is taking steps to confirm and remove them, he announced last week.

In 2022, Georgia Republican Secretary of State Brad Raffensperger led a verification of his state’s voter rolls specifically looking for non-citizens. His office found that 1,634 people attempted to register to vote over a 25-year period, but that election officials intercepted all the applications and none were able to register.

In North Carolina in 2016, an election audit found that 41 legal immigrants who had not yet become citizens voted, out of a total of 4.8 million votes cast. The votes made no difference in the state’s elections.

Voters must confirm, under penalty of perjury, that they are citizens when they register to vote. If they lie, they face fines, imprisonment or deportation, said David Becker, founder and executive director of the nonprofit Center for Election Innovation and Research.

On top of that, anyone who registers provides their Social Security number, driver’s license or ID card, Becker said. This means that they have already shown the government proof of citizenship to receive these documents, or if they are a non-citizen with an ID card or social security number, they have been clearly classified that way in state records.

“What they’re asking for is more proof,” Becker said of Republicans supporting Johnson’s bill. “Why should people go to multiple government agencies and ask, ‘Show us your papers,’ when they’ve already shown them?

Democrats fear adding new ID requirements may not be possible disenfranchise eligible voters who do not have their birth certificate or social security card on hand. Republicans counter that the additional measure could provide an extra level of security and boost voter confidence in a flawed system in which non-citizen voters have escaped in the past.

The national focus on non-citizen voting has also focused attention on a related but different phenomenon: how a small number of local jurisdictions, including San Francisco and the District of Columbia, have begun to allow immigrants who are not citizens to vote in certain locations. competition, as for the school board and the municipal council.

The number of non-citizen voters casting ballots in cities where they are allowed to do so has been minimal so far. In Winooski, Vt., where 1,345 people voted in a recent local election, only 11 were not citizens, the clerk told the Associated Press. Still, this gradually growing phenomenon has prompted some state lawmakers to introduce ballot measures aimed at preventing cities from trying this in the future.

In South Carolina, voters will vote in November on a constitutional amendment that supporters say will close the door to voting by any non-citizen. The state constitution currently states that any citizen age 18 and older who is eligible to vote may do so. The amendment changes the wording to say “citizens only.”

Republican Sen. Chip Campsen called it a safeguard to prevent future problems. California has language similar to South Carolina’s current provision, and Campsen cited a California Supreme Court ruling that said “all” did not prevent non-citizens from voting.

Democratic Sen. Darrell Jackson asked Campsen during last month’s debate, “Do we have this problem here in South Carolina?”

“You don’t have a problem until it arises,” Campsen replied.

Missouri Republicans on Friday passed a ballot measure for November that would ban both non-citizen and ranked-choice voting.

“I know some scary assumptions have been made: ‘Well, what about St. Louis?’ What about Kansas City?’ said Democratic Sen. Lauren Arthur of Kansas City. “It’s not a real threat because it’s already banned. It’s already illegal in Missouri.

Asked Thursday by a Democrat about cases of non-citizens voting in Missouri, Republican Rep. Alex Riley said he didn’t have “specific data or a scenario that this happened” but wanted to ” address concerns that this could happen in Missouri.” future.”

In Wisconsin, an important presidential state where the Republican-controlled Legislature also placed a non-citizen voting measure on the ballot this fall, Democratic state Rep. Lee Snodgrass said during from a hearing earlier this week that she didn’t understand why someone who wasn’t. a legal citizen would vote.

“I’m trying to understand what people think the motivation would be for a non-citizen to go to extreme lengths to actively commit a crime in order to vote in an election that will end up putting them in jail or being deported,” she says.


Associated Press writers Summer Ballentine in Jefferson City, Missouri, Jeffrey Collins in Columbia, South Carolina, and Scott Bauer in Madison, Wisconsin, contributed to this report.


The Associated Press receives support from several private foundations to improve its explanatory coverage of elections and democracy. Learn more about AP’s Democratic Initiative here. The AP is solely responsible for all content.

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