WASHINGTON (NEWSnet/AP) — The U.S. House of Representatives was poised to vote Wednesday on a citizenship documentation requirement for voter registration.

This is a proposal Republicans have prioritized as an election-year talking point, even as research shows noncitizens illegally registering and casting ballots in federal elections is exceptionally rare.

Earlier this week, the Republican National Committee released its party platform, which emphasizes border security issues and takes a stand against Democrats giving “voting rights” to migrants living in the country illegally.

Even if the Safeguard American Voter Eligibility Act (SAVE Act) passes the GOP-controlled House, the legislation is unlikely to advance through the Democratic-led Senate.

The Biden administration also is strongly opposed, saying safeguards already are in place to verify voter eligibility and enforce the law against noncitizens trying to cast ballots.

What is the SAVE Act About?

 

If passed, the bill would require noncitizens to be removed from state voter rolls and require new applicants to provide documentary proof of U.S. citizenship.

It also would require states to establish a process for applicants who can’t show proof to provide other evidence beyond their attestation of citizenship, though it’s unclear what that evidence could include.

Under current law, noncitizens are not allowed to vote in federal elections, under a felony law that calls for fines, prison or deportation. Anyone registering must attest under penalty of perjury that they are a U.S. citizen. Noncitizens also are not allowed to cast ballots at the state level.

A handful of municipalities allow non-citizens to vote in some local elections.

Bringing this topic to a House vote is expected to give Republicans an opportunity to bring attention to two of their key issues in the 2024 race – border and election security.

Republican House Speaker Mike Johnson, a key backer of the bill, said in a news conference earlier this week that the Democratic opposition means many Democrats “want illegals to participate in our federal elections; they want them to vote.”

During a speech Wednesday previewing the expected House debate, he called the vote a “generation-defining moment."

“If just a small percentage, a fraction of a fraction of all those illegals that Joe Biden has brought in here to vote, if they do vote, it wouldn't just change one race,” he said. “It might potentially change all of our races.”

On his Truth Social platform this week, former president and current leading Republican candidate Donald Trump suggested that Democrats are pushing to give noncitizen migrants the right to vote and urged Republicans to pass the legislation or “go home and cry yourself to sleep.”

Opponents have pointed to surveys showing that millions of Americans don’t have easy access to  documentary proof of citizenship, such as a birth certificate, naturalization certificate or passport, and therefore the bill could affect U.S. citizen voters who aren’t able to further prove their status.

If the bill were to pass, “it would not safeguard American voting eligibility but immediately disenfranchise millions of American citizens,” said Sean Morales-Doyle, director of voting rights at the Brennan Center for Justice.

“For all their hysterical rhetoric around the SAVE Act, Republicans have one real purpose here – to continue to erode the confidence of Americans in our election systems,” said Rep. Joe Morelle of New York, the top Democrat on the House Administration Committee.

How Common is This Situation?

 

Research and audits in various states show that there have been incidences of noncitizens who successfully registered to vote and cast ballots.

Typically it is considered a mistake. States have mechanisms to check for it, although there isn't one standard protocol they all follow. 

The examples include:

  • Ohio Secretary of State Frank LaRose recently found 137 suspected noncitizens on the state’s rolls out of roughly 8 million voters — and said he was taking action to confirm and remove them.
  • Georgia’s Republican secretary of state, Brad Raffensperger, conducted an audit during 2022 of his state’s voter rolls, specifically looking for noncitizens. His office found that 1,634 had attempted to register to vote over a period of 25 years, but election officials had caught all the applications and none had been able to register.
  • In North Carolina during 2016, an audit of elections found that 41 legal who had not yet become citizens cast ballots, out of 4.8 million total ballots cast. Their votes didn’t make a difference in any of the state’s elections.

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