Trump and Mike Johnson push for redundant ban on non-citizens voting

Donald Trump and the House speaker, Mike Johnson, plan to push for a bill to ban non-citizens from voting, the latest step by Republicans to falsely claim migrants are coming to the country and casting ballots.

Voting when a person is not eligible – for instance if they lack US citizenship – is already illegal under federal law. It is unclear what the bill Johnson and the former president will discuss in their Friday press conference at Mar-a-Lago will do to alter that. But it is one more way for the former president to focus on election security and to ding the Biden administration over the situation at the US-Mexico border, a key issue for likely Republican voters this November.

Related: ‘Mischief and problems’: rightwing activists ramp up drive to hand-count ballots

Like the other claims Trump makes about the 2020 election being stolen, the talking point about migrant voting does not have facts to back it up.

There is no evidence of widespread non-citizen voting, nor are there even many examples of individual instances of the practice, despite strenuous efforts in some states to find these cases. A large study by the Brennan Center of the 2016 election found that just 0.0001% of votes across 42 jurisdictions, with 23.5m votes, were suspected to be non-citizens voting, 30 incidents in total.

One review in Georgia found about 1,600 instances of non-citizens registering to vote from 1997 to 2022. In these instances, safeguards in the process worked: none of these attempts led to someone being allowed to register, because they did not submit proof of citizenship needed to be added to the voter rolls.

The Heritage Foundation, a conservative thinktank, has a database of voter fraud cases across the country, which, according to the Washington Post, includes just 85 cases of non-citizen voting since 2002.

Some of the isolated instances of non-citizens voting in the last decade have involved people who were confused about their eligibility and did not do so intentionally.

In general, people who are undocumented avoid scenarios that could leave them vulnerable to deportation, such as voting illegally.

The lack of prosecutions over migrant voting has not stopped Trump from making claims on the campaign trail that it will somehow steal the election from him, or that it has already happened in other elections in which he was on the ballot.

“I think they really are doing it because they want to sign these people up to vote. I really do,” Trump said in Iowa in January. “They can’t speak a word of English for the most part, but they’re signing them up.”

Trump is not the only one spreading this falsehood – it’s part of a longstanding Republican line of attack on immigration and Democrats. Now, the myth is also being pushed by Elon Musk, the owner of X, and the prominent Trump-aligned figure Cleta Mitchell, who has been circulating a two-page memo laying out “the threat of non-citizen voting in 2024”, according to reporting by NPR, which obtained the memo.

Because this is a concern Republicans consistently bring up, some states have added new laws to try to remove non-citizens from voter rolls or undertaken audits of their voters to assess citizenship status.

But, voting rights advocates have warned, these often run the risk of ensnaring naturalized citizens and other people who are eligible to vote and booting them from the voter rolls. One attempt in Texas in 2019 led the then secretary of state to send letters to nearly 100,000 people, including US citizens who were erroneously warned they might not be eligible to vote.

Widespread voter fraud, in general, does not exist in the US. There are instances of voter fraud prosecuted across the US every election, but even statewide taskforces have been unable to uncover large numbers of cases, and certainly nothing close to the scale that could swing elections.

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