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National News

Though noncitizens can vote in few local elections, GOP goes big to make it illegal

Credit: iStock

by Matt Vasilogambros, Georgia Recorder
May 7, 2024

Preventing people who are not United States citizens from casting a ballot has reemerged as a focal point in the ongoing Republican drive to safeguard “election integrity,” even though noncitizens are rarely involved in voter fraud.

Ahead of November’s presidential election, congressional and state Republican lawmakers are aiming to keep noncitizens away from the polls. They’re using state constitutional amendments and new laws that require citizenship verification to vote. Noncitizens can vote in a handful of local elections in several states, but already are not allowed to vote in statewide or federal elections.

Some Republicans argue that preventing noncitizens from casting ballots — long a boogeyman in conservative politics — reduces the risk of fraud and increases confidence in American democracy. But even some on the right think these efforts are going too far, as they churn up anti-immigration sentiment and unsupported fears of widespread fraud, all to boost turnout among the GOP base.

While Republican congressional leaders want to require documentation proving U.S. citizenship when registering to vote in federal elections, voters in at least four states will decide on ballot measures in November that would amend their state constitutions to clarify that only U.S. citizens can vote in state and local elections.

Over the past six years, Alabama, Colorado, Florida, Louisiana, North Dakota and Ohio have all amended their state constitutions.

In Kentucky — which along with Idaho, Iowa and Wisconsin is now considering a constitutional amendment — noncitizens voting will not be tolerated, said Republican state Sen. Damon Thayer, who voted in February to put the amendment on November’s ballot. Five Democrats between the two chambers backed the Republican-authored legislation, while 16 others dissented.

“There is a lot of concern here about the Biden administration’s open border policies,” Thayer, the majority floor leader, told Stateline. “People see it on the news every day, with groups of illegals pouring through the border. And they’re combined with concerns on election integrity.”

U.S. House Speaker Mike Johnson expressed similar concerns last month when he announced new legislation — despite an existing 1996 ban — that would make it illegal for noncitizens to vote in federal elections. During a trip to Florida to meet with former President Donald Trump, the Louisiana Republican said it’s common sense to require proof of citizenship.

“It could, if there are enough votes, affect the presidential election,” he said, standing in front of Trump in the presumptive presidential nominee’s Mar-a-Lago resort. “We cannot wait for widespread fraud to occur, especially when the threat of fraud is growing with every single illegal immigrant that crosses that border.”

That rhetoric is rooted in a fear about how the U.S. is changing demographically, becoming more diverse as the non-white population increases, said longtime Republican strategist Mike Madrid. Though this political strategy has worked to galvanize support among GOP voters in the past, he questions whether this will be effective politically in the long term.

“There’s no problem being solved here,” said Madrid, whose forthcoming book, “The Latino Century,” outlines the group’s growing voter participation. “This is all politics. It’s all about stoking fears and angering the base.”

Noncitizens are voting in some elections around the country, but not in a way that many might think.

This story is republished from Georgia Recorder under a Creative Commons license. Read the original story.