The Impact of Non-Citizen Voting on American Elections Executive Summary
The approaching 2008 general elections underscore concern that the growing access of non-citizens to the ballot box could distort the outcome. Groups arguing for easier access to the polls deny there is a problem at all, seeing restrictive registration and identification rules as anti-democratic and even racist. They dismiss non-citizen voting as rare, not criminal in intent or concerted, and more harmful than beneficial to non-citizens.
Yet anecdotal evidence persists and grows that non-citizens are registering and voting in significant numbers. A common and increasing indicator is the number of persons selected for jury duty from the voter rolls who beg off because they are not citizens. The 1993 "Motor-Voter" legislation accelerated the trend: it provided registration virtually by default, with affirmation of citizenship left to an honor system. The risk of detection of this fraud has waned with the increasing use of absentee and mail-in voting, which precludes personal inspection at the polls by election officials.
Anecdotal evidence tells us only that illegal voting happens around the country, not how much. But there is overlooked data that define, if not the exact number of alien voters, at least the order of magnitude and extent of the practice.
The explosive growth of the Latino electorate in south Florida after "Motor-Voter" resulted in a registration rate among Miami-Dade county's putatively voting-eligible population some 30 percentage points higher than the national registration rate for Hispanics, suggesting a heavy presence of ineligibles on the voter rolls.
A Public Policy Institute of California survey in 2007 found 31 percent of the state's immigrant population was registered. This fraction, however, would be a population larger than the state's naturalized citizens shown by surveys to be registered. Some 300,000 to 450,000 registrations of non-citizens would be needed to bring total registrations up to 31 percent. Also in California, a poll by a Los Angeles university think tank in 2007 found that 12 percent of non-citizen respondents acknowledged being registered, implying 155,000 ineligible voters in Los Angeles County.
Assuming the 12 percent registration rate applied to the nation's adult non-citizens, there would be 2.3 million ineligible aliens on U.S. voting rolls.
An examination of voter registration rates in immigrant-rich congressional districts and counties in California, Texas, Florida, and New York show high numbers of registered voters disproportionate to their vote-eligible populations. In several districts and jurisdictions the number of registrants even exceeded the total number of eligible voters.
Intense political mobilization and registration drives by ethnic groups in preparation for the 2008 elections-some of them aggrieved by tightened immigration policy-may well further enlarge the alien electorate.
An estimated two to two and a half million ineligible voters may seem insignificant in an overall electorate that could reach 130 million in 2008. But in three presidential elections since 1960, the principal contenders have been separated by margins far less than two million. The concentration of those non-citizen votes in just a few states disproportionately increases their leverage in state and local contests and in the Electoral College.