Illegal Immigrants Are Voting in American Elections

Hans A. von Spakovsky, Cutting Edge News, August 4, 2008

In 2005, the U.S. Government Accountability Office found that up to 3 percent of the 30,000 individuals called for jury duty from voter registration rolls over a two-year period in just one U.S. district court were not U.S. citizens. While that may not seem like many, just 3 percent of registered voters would have been more than enough to provide the winning presidential vote margin in Florida in 2000. Indeed, the Census Bureau estimates that there are over a million illegal aliens in Florida, and the U.S. Department of Justice (DOJ) has prosecuted more non-citizen voting cases in Florida than in any other state.

Florida is not unique. Thousands of non-citizens are registered to vote in some states, and tens if not hundreds of thousands in total may be present on the voter rolls nationwide. These numbers are significant: Local elections are often decided by only a handful of votes, and even national elections have likely been within the margin of the number of non-citizens illegally registered to vote.

Yet there is no reliable method to determine the number of non-citizens registered or actually voting because most laws to ensure that only citizens vote are ignored, are inadequate, or are systematically undermined by government officials. Those who ignore the implications of non-citizen registration and voting either are willfully blind to the problem or may actually favor this form of illegal voting.

Americans may disagree on many areas of immigration policy, but not on the basic principle that only citizens—and not non-citizens, whether legally present or not—should be able to vote in elections. Unless and until immigrants become citizens, they must respect the laws that bar non-citizen voting. To keep non-citizens from diluting citizens’ votes, immigration and election officials must cooperate far more effectively than they have to date, and state and federal officials must increase their efforts to enforce the laws against non-citizen voting that are already on the books.

An Enduring Problem

Costas Bakouris, head of the Greek chapter of Transparency International, says in an interview that ending corruption is easy: enforce the law. Illegal voting by immigrants in America is nothing new. Almost as long as there have been elections, there have been Tammany Halls trying to game the ballot box. Well into the 20th century, the political machines asserted their ascendancy on Election Day, stealing elections in the boroughs of New York and the wards of Chicago. Quite regularly, Irish immigrants were lined up and counted in canvasses long before the term “citizen” ever applied to them—and today it is little different.

Yet in the debates over what to do about the 8 million to 12 million illegal aliens estimated to be in the United States, there has been virtually no discussion of how to ensure that they (and millions of legal aliens) do not register and vote in elections.

Citizenship is and should be a basic requirement for voting. Citizenship is a legal requirement to vote in federal and state elections, except for a small number of local elections in a few jurisdictions.

Some Americans argue that alien voting is a non-existent problem or dismiss reported cases of non-citizen voting as unimportant because, they claim, there are no cases in which non-citizens “intentionally” registered to vote or voted “while knowing that they were ineligible.” Even if this latter claim were true—which it is not—every vote cast by a non-citizen, whether an illegal alien or a resident alien legally in the country, dilutes or cancels the vote of a citizen and thus disenfranchises him or her. To dismiss such stolen votes because the non-citizens supposedly did not know they were acting illegally when they cast a vote debases one of the most important rights of citizens.

The evidence is indisputable that aliens, both legal and illegal, are registering and voting in federal, state, and local elections. Following a mayor’s race in Compton, California, for example, aliens testified under oath in court that they voted in the election. In that case, a candidate who was elected to the city council was permanently disqualified from holding public office in California for soliciting non-citizens to register and vote. The fact that non-citizens registered and voted in the election would never have been discovered except for the fact that it was a very close election and the incumbent mayor, who lost by less than 300 votes, contested it.

Similarly, a 1996 congressional race in California may have been stolen by non-citizen voting. Republican incumbent Bob Dornan was defending himself against a spirited challenger, Democrat Loretta Sanchez. Sanchez won the election by just 979 votes, and Dornan contested the election in the U.S. House of Representatives. His challenge was dismissed after an investigation by the House Committee on Oversight and Government Reform turned up only 624 invalid votes by non-citizens who were present in the U.S. Immigration and Naturalization Service (INS) database because they had applied for citizenship, as well as another 124 improper absentee ballots. The investigation, however, could not detect illegal aliens, who were not in the INS records.

The Oversight Committee pointed out the elephant in the room: “If there is a significant number of ‘documented aliens,’ aliens in INS records, on the Orange County voter registration rolls, how many illegal or undocumented aliens may be registered to vote in Orange County?” There is a strong possibility that, with only about 200 votes determining the winner, enough undetected aliens registered and voted to change the outcome of the election. This is particularly true since the California Secretary of State complained that the INS refused his request to check the entire Orange County voter registration file, and no complete check of all of the individuals who voted in the congressional race was ever made.

The “Quick Ticket”

Non-citizen voting is likely growing at the same rate as the alien population in the United States; but because of deficiencies in state law and the failure of federal agencies to comply with federal law, there are almost no procedures in place that allow election officials to detect, deter, and prevent non-citizens from registering and voting. Instead, officials are largely dependent on an “honor system” that expects aliens to follow the law. There are numerous cases showing the failure of this honor system.

The frequent claim that illegal aliens do not register in order “to stay below the radar” misses the fact that many aliens apparently believe that the potential benefit of registering far outweighs the chances of being caught and prosecuted. Many district attorneys will not prosecute what they see as a “victimless and non-violent” crime that is not a priority.

On the benefit side of the equation, a voter registration card is an easily obtainable document—they are routinely issued without any checking of identification—that an illegal alien can use for many different purposes, including obtaining a driver’s license, qualifying for a job, and even voting. The Immigration Reform and Control Act of 1986, for example, requires employers to verify that all newly hired employees present documentation verifying their identity and legal authorization to work in the United States. In essence, this means that new employees have to present evidence that they are either U.S. citizens or legal aliens with a work permit. The federal I-9 form that employers must complete for all new employees provides a list of documentation that can be used to establish identity—including a voter registration card.

How aliens view the importance of this benefit was illustrated by the work of a federal grand jury in 1984 that found large numbers of aliens registered to vote in Chicago. As the grand jury reported, many aliens “register to vote so that they can obtain documents identifying them as U.S. citizens” and have “used their voters’ cards to obtain a myriad of benefits, from social security to jobs with the Defense Department.” The U.S. Attorney at the time estimated that there were at least 80,000 illegal aliens registered to vote in Chicago, and dozens were indicted and convicted for registering and voting.

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