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Trump said millions of migrants are signing up to vote illegally | Fact check

Trump has made false claims about immigrants voting before, and there is nothing new about this one.
 
Former President Donald Trump provided no evidence for this statement.
Former President Donald Trump provided no evidence for this statement. [ ANDREW HARNIK | AP ]
Published Jan. 21

Former President Donald Trump’s final push before the Iowa caucuses came with warnings about an outrageous Democratic scheme to register immigrants in the country illegally to vote.

“That’s why they are allowing these people to come in — people that don’t speak our language — they are signing them up to vote,” Trump said Jan. 5 in Sioux Center, Iowa. “And I believe that’s why you are having millions of people pour into our country and it could very well affect the next election. That’s why they are doing it.”

Trump didn’t directly identify who “they” are, but in his preceding comments, he talked about people who “cheat on an election” — language he often uses to talk about Democrats.

Trump’s statements in majority-white Iowa, which holds its caucuses Jan. 15, fit in with conspiracy theories about “white replacement” or the “great replacement,” which claim white people of European descent are deliberately being replaced with nonwhite people.

Trump has made false claims about immigrants voting in 2014, in 2016 as a presidential candidate, and again in 2020 after his reelection loss.

There is nothing new about this claim in 2024. Our search for evidence turned up sporadic cases of noncitizens registering to vote or casting ballots. But we found no effort by the left to register people in the country illegally.

“There is zero evidence that institutionally the Democratic Party has been doing this,” said Mike Madrid, a longtime Republican strategist in California who produces the Latino Vote podcast with Chuck Rocha, a Democratic political consultant. We asked Trump’s campaign for evidence and received no reply.

Voting by immigrants in U.S. illegally is rare

Federal law requires citizenship to vote in national elections, and would-be voters sign a form attesting under penalty of perjury that they are citizens when they register to vote. States can check databases to verify voters’ citizenship.

Fraudulent voter registration or voting by noncitizens is often a result of misunderstandings or errors. For example, some noncitizens accidentally register to vote when applying for a driver’s license. But the number of people who fall into this category is “minuscule,” Rutgers University political science professor Lorraine Minnite previously told us.

In Colorado, ahead of the 2022 midterm election, the secretary of state’s office mistakenly sent postcards to about 30,000 noncitizens who had driver’s licenses encouraging them to register to vote. The office sent a second postcard notifying these noncitizens about the error and worked with county clerks to ensure the ineligible voters did not register.

In 2020, federal prosecutors charged 19 people in North Carolina with voter fraud after they cast ballots mostly in the 2016 election. Sixteen people pleaded guilty, mostly to misdemeanors related to voting as a noncitizen. Three cases were dismissed.

That was a big case, but keep in mind that more than 4.5 million people in North Carolina voted in the 2016 presidential election.

An investigation in Georgia found 1,634 noncitizens who attempted to register to vote over 25 years, Secretary of State Brad Raffensperger said in 2022. Ultimately, no one was registered.

“The system worked to prevent illegal voting,” said John Melvin, chief assistant district attorney in Gwinnett County, home to part of Atlanta.

Noncitizens who vote could face serious consequences

Voting by noncitizens carries high risks that include deportation or incarceration.

Interacting with the government, including trying to vote, is something the undocumented population tries to avoid, said Madrid, the Republican strategist. “They are not going to go register to vote and expose themselves.”

The penalties are also high for a political party or volunteer who would try to sign up an ineligible voter.

“There are so many millions of citizens of eligible voting age, Latinos, that are not registered,” Madrid said. It makes more sense to focus on them, he said.

Republicans sometimes object to some communities allowing certain noncitizens to vote in local elections. Takoma Park, Maryland, has allowed it since 1993. But, again, noncitizens aren’t allowed to vote in presidential races.

“There is no indication that noncitizen voting in those localities has caused noncitizen voting in state or federal elections,” said Wendy R. Weiser, a lawyer at the Brennan Center for Justice at the New York University School of Law.

It’s a long path for immigrants to gain the right to vote

The process of becoming a citizen — and the right to vote that comes with it — can take a decade or longer.

Border officials have encountered migrants nationwide 8.1 million times under President Joe Biden’s administration, as of November 2023. (If one person tries to enter the country three times and is stopped each time by border officials, that equals three encounters.) Also, not everyone encountered is let into the U.S. About 3.6 million encounters ended in people being deported from the country under Biden, DHS data shows.

“Even if many of these people found a path to legal status via asylum or other means, it would be many, many years before they would become eligible to vote given both the huge backlogs in adjudicating cases in immigration court and the fact that people spend years on a green card before being eligible for citizenship,” Michelle Mittelstadt, a Migration Policy Institute spokesperson, previously told PolitiFact.

Our ruling

Trump said Democrats are allowing illegal immigrants “to come in — people that don’t speak our language — they are signing them up to vote. And I believe that’s why you are having millions of people pour into our country.”

Trump provided no evidence for this scheme. Only U.S. citizens can vote in federal elections, and proven incidents of noncitizens casting ballots are rare. Even immigrants who arrive now and apply for citizenship won’t be able to vote for more than a decade because of the lengthy citizenship process.

We rate this statement Pants on Fire!

Staff writer Maria Ramirez Uribe contributed to this fact check.