U.S. House panel debates voting by noncitizens

Republicans on the U.S. House Administration Committee argued at a Thursday hearing that there is a need for legislative action to bar noncitizens from voting in federal elections — even though voting by noncitizens in federal elections is extremely rare and already illegal.

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May 17, 2024 - 2:31 PM

Signage for voters looking to vote in-person at the Wellington E. Webb Municipal Office Building on March 5, 2024 in Denver, Colorado. Fifteen states and one U.S. territory hold their primary elections on Super Tuesday, awarding more delegates than any other day in the presidential nominating calendar. Photo by Photo by Marc Piscotty/Getty Images/Kansas Reflector

WASHINGTON — Republicans on the U.S. House Administration Committee argued at a Thursday hearing that there is a need for legislative action to bar noncitizens from voting in federal elections — even though voting by noncitizens in federal elections is extremely rare and already illegal.

“American elections are for American citizens and we intend to keep it that way,” the chair of the committee, Rep. Bryan Steil of Wisconsin, said in his opening remarks.

House Democrats said Republicans were laying the groundwork to instill mistrust in voting ahead of the November elections, drawing parallels to the Jan. 6, 2021, insurrection at the U.S. Capitol when then-President Donald Trump encouraged supporters to block certification of the 2020 presidential election results.

“MAGA extremists are laying the groundwork to overturn the 2024 presidential election,” the top Democrat on the committee, Rep. Joe Morelle of New York, said in his opening remarks, using an acronym that is shorthand for Trump supporters.

Responding to local rules

Noncitizens are barred from voting in federal elections but they can vote in local elections if a local law is passed allowing them to do so. Certain municipalities in California, Maryland and Vermont, as well as the District of Columbia, allow noncitizens to participate in local elections.

As the November elections approach, Republicans have taken aim at noncitizen voting, and have made immigration policy a campaign issue. Trump, who is the presumptive GOP presidential nominee, has also made the issue a central campaign theme.

House Speaker Mike Johnson of Louisiana helped unveil legislation last week to bar noncitizens from voting in federal elections, something that is already illegal.

Steil said that municipalities allowing noncitizens to vote “reduces confidence in our elections.” He specifically called out Washington, D.C., for allowing noncitizens to partake in its elections.

“Washington, D.C., is setting a new standard that could soon be applied across the country,” Steil said.

“This causes a host of problems for a state to maintain (a) clean voter registration list,” Steil argued.

Researchers and studies have often disproved that noncitizens cast ballots in federal elections. The Heritage Foundation, a conservative think tank, conducted an analysis of election conduct from 2003 to 2023 and found 29 instances of noncitizens voting.

GOP members promote House bill

Republicans on the committee advocated for the election-related bill, H.R. 8281, that Johnson promoted on the steps of the U.S. Capitol. The bill, sponsored by Texas GOP Rep. Chip Roy, would require states to verify proof of citizenship to prevent noncitizens from voting in federal elections, which is already a felony.

Oklahoma GOP Rep. Stephanie Bice argued that jurisdictions that allow noncitizens to vote should have a separate voter roll. She asked one of the witnesses, Hans von Spakovsky, a senior legal fellow at the Heritage Foundation, if there should be a federal law to require states to separate voter rolls. Von Spakovsky agreed with the idea.

Bice said that the biggest issue she has with localities allowing noncitizens to vote is that “the voter rolls are not being cleaned up.”

The Roy bill would require states to remove voters from rolls who do not prove their citizenship.

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