Posted on October 29, 2004

Illegal Aliens in Elections and the Electoral College

Federation for American Immigration Reform, Oct. 2004

The United States sends election monitors around the world to help discourage fraudulent elections. But, here at home, it has largely turned a blind eye to the possibility that fraudulent voting by noncitizens could determine an election outcome.

Not only is our voter registration system easily accessible to abuse by noncitizens, illegal aliens, by being included in the apportionment of congressional seats, are automatically given a role in determining the outcome of elections across the country, including the vote in the Electoral College that decides the Presidency.

U.S. Elections Are Vulnerable to Noncitizen Voting Fraud

Consider how close the 2000 presidential election was. Could the outcome have been affected by noncitizen voting? The answer surely is yes, but there is virtually no way of determining whether that might have happened because our voter registration process is so lax that only a voter-by-voter investigation could provide the answer. With the 2004 presidential election looming towards a similar close result, the potential again appears to exist that voting by noncitizens could determine the results.

There is evidence that noncitizens are being registered and casting votes, but due to the laxity in checking the eligibility of registrants and voters the full extent of the problem is not known. One of the most extensively documented cases of illegal voting was in California in 1996. Loretta Sanchez, a Democrat, defeated Republican incumbent Robert Dornan by 984 votes. Dornan called for an investigation of alleged illegal voting by noncitizens. According to Congressional Quarterly, a Washington, DC newspaper that focuses on developments in Congress, “Task force Chairman [U.S. Representative] Vernon J. Ehlers, R-Mich., said investigators had found concrete evidence of 748 illegal votes by noncitizens, not enough to throw Sanchez’s victory into doubt.”

A lack of attention to the phenomenon of noncitizen voting and a failure to impose penalties against those who cast votes fraudulently has rendered laws against such activity meaningless. It is a federal crime to vote illegally. However, in all cases that have been documented of illegal voting in recent years there apparently has never been a prosecution and, therefore, no penalty has been assessed. Some of the cases involved the discovery of illegal voting by aliens during investigation of applicants for U.S. citizenship. Even though illegal voting could have made the alien ineligible for U.S. citizenship, the disqualification was waived. Therefore, the penalty in the law against illegal voting could be likened to a paper tiger.

There is evidence that ethnic advocacy activists have encouraged noncitizens to register to vote. A recent case in Wisconsin is likely to be just the tip of the iceberg. The Wisconsin case involved the registration of noncitizen residing legally in the U.S., but it might just as easily have involved an illegal resident.

Easy Access to Illegal Voting

There are few safeguards in place to prevent noncitizens from registering to vote, or casting one. The Motor-Voter Act, signed by President Clinton in 1993, specifies that the voter registration process must be offered and facilitated at state departments of motor vehicles and at state welfare offices. In addition, that law requires that mail-in registration become available for all voters, expands absentee voting, and makes it nearly impossible for an election observer to challenge the eligibility of a voter.

The only control against noncitizens registering to vote is a required statement in the application form that the registrant is a U.S. citizen. No verification of that statement is currently required anywhere, although if Arizona were to pass Proposition 200 in this election, it would become the first state to have such a provision.

There is a great demand in our society by anyone of working age to have a driver’s license. States have established a wide spectrum of laws governing the issuance of those licenses. While some require and verify evidence that an applicant is either a U.S. citizen or a foreigner in the country legally, other states deliberately or inadvertently create loopholes that allow illegal aliens to gain access to a license or identity card. Seven states allow registrants to use an individual taxpayer identification number (ITIN) in lieu of a Social Security number (SSN) when they register. The ITIN is available to noncitizens, including illegal aliens for purposes of tax withholding. Another 11 states have provisions that allow illegal aliens to obtain driver’s licenses, such as neglecting to verify the authenticity of the SSN.

DMV officials in New York, a state that supposedly does not permit illegal aliens to obtain driver’s licenses, recently found when they retroactively checked the SSNs provided by driver’s license applicants, that there were in the neighborhood of 300,000 applications that had false numbers, or which used the same number as multiple additional applicants.

Occurrences of noncitizens registering to vote is not a harmless misunderstanding of the rules, as immigrants’ rights groups contend. The voter registration card, like a state driver’s license, is a document that may allow an illegal alien to get a job if the alien is going to pass himself/herself off as a U.S. citizen.

The Possible Magnitude of Noncitizen Voting

At any given time, there are about 28 million foreigners in the United States. The bulk of them are legal and illegal residents (24 million), and about 1.6 million are tourists or temporary visitors from Canada or Mexico. Many of the remaining 2.4 million visitors, such as students and temporary workers, are on long-term visas and acquire U.S. driver’s licenses, as do a large share of the legal and illegal residents.

Nearly 21 million noncitizen residents and illegal alien residents are currently of voting age, suggesting that they may have obtained a driver’s license and, at the same time, had the opportunity to register to vote. The Democrats have a large advantage in registration of newly naturalized immigrants, and it is reasonable to expect that if noncitizens vote they likely overwhelming vote for the Democratic Party candidates

In the 2000 election, there were 11 states carried by President Bush that had small enough winning vote margins that voting by noncitizens could have tipped the results to Vice President Gore. Those states were Colorado, Florida, Georgia, Missouri, Nevada, New Hampshire, North Carolina, Ohio, Tennessee, Texas, and Virginia. A switch of three votes in the Electoral College from Bush to Gore would have reversed the outcome of that election, so the voting of enough noncitizens to reverse the outcome in any one of those 11 states would have reversed the final outcome.

In Florida, with more than 1.5 million noncitizens of voting age, only 540 of them would have had to vote (or 540 more ineligible voters than may actually have voted) for Gore to reverse the Presidential winner. In Nevada, fewer than nine percent of an estimated 244,000 noncitizen, voting-age residents would have had to vote for Gore to reverse the outcome of the election. In the other nine states, it would have taken from 25 percent to 92 percent of the voting-age noncitizens to reverse the outcome.

The Role of Illegal Aliens in Influencing the Electoral College Vote

By including illegal aliens in the Census data used to apportion seats in the U.S. House of Representatives, areas with large numbers of illegal residents gain additional representatives.1 See our Issue Brief “Illegal Immigrants Distort Congressional Representation and Federal Programs.” Because the number of votes of each state in the Electoral College is determined by the number of national representatives, illegal aliens are also given a role in influencing the outcome of the selection process for the presidency.2

According to a study by the Center for Immigration Studies, there were four seats in the U.S. House of Representatives that were shifted among the states on the basis of the number of illegal aliens in the 2000 Census.3 States that are currently expected to cast their Electoral College votes for President Bush in the 2004 election lost three seats in the post-2000 Census reapportionment (Ind., Miss., and Mont.) and gained one (N.C.) for a net loss of two House seats and, therefore, two Electoral College votes. California, which gained three House seats, and, therefore, three Electoral College votes as a result of illegal aliens counted in the 2000 Census, is expected to cast its votes for Sen. Kerry. But, Michigan, which also is expected to support Kerry, lost one House seat and, therefore, one Electoral College vote. So, by including the illegal alien population in reapportioning the nation’s nationally elected representatives, Sen. Kerry may have a net gain of two votes in the Electoral College.4

If the outcome of the 2004 presidential election is very close, the four vote swing—two won, two lost—in Electoral College voting caused by including illegal aliens in the apportionment of congressional seats could be enough to determine the outcome.


The potential for vote fraud by noncitizens in U.S. elections is real. Enough evidence of voting by noncitizens exists to believe that it is not just a potential issue, but is an actual problem. With presidential and other elections turning on very few votes, voting by noncitizen voters may change the outcome of elections.

If the United States wants to eliminate the possible appearance of elections determined by fraudulent voting, procedures must be adopted to verify the eligibility or new voter registrants, and to verify the identity of voters when they vote, with the application of penalties for those who register and/or vote fraudulently. If there is no real penalty for illegal voting, it is unreasonable to expect that an ‘honor system’ to keep ineligible persons from voting will be effective.

It is insulting to our national adherence to the rule of law to confer domestic political power on persons illegally in the country. The size of the illegal alien population has become so large that this issue should no longer be ignored by the nation’s policymakers or the courts.


  1. This analysis is only on the role of illegal aliens in influencing the apportionment of representation in the U.S. Congress and the Electoral College, but other noncitizens counted in the decennial Census also influence the outcome of that apportionment.
  2. The District of Columbia is an exception. It does not have voting representation in Congress, but does have three votes in the Electoral College.
  3. Poston, Dudley L., et al., “Remaking the Political Landscape: The Impact of Illegal and Legal Immigration on Congressional Apportionment” Center for Immigration Studies, October 2003.
  4. The decennial Census not only determines the apportionment of seats in the U.S. House of Representatives, it also is used for the apportionment of elected representatives within the states, thereby empowering illegal aliens and other noncitizens to influence that distribution of political power as well.