Analysis: Noncitizen Voting is Vanishingly Rare

For years, the Brennan Center has collected research showing that voter fraud is extraordinarily rare. We elaborate on one subset of voter fraud claims – the allegation that ineligible noncitizens are voting in large numbers.

January 25, 2017

For years, the Brennan Center has collected research showing that voter fraud is extraordinarily rare. Below is a review of the literature on one subset of voter fraud claims – the allegation that ineligible noncitizens are voting in large numbers.

Comprehensive Studies Find Noncitizen Voting is Vanishingly Rare

  • Rutgers University political scientist Lorraine C. Minnite has studied voter fraud allegations for more than a decade. She has concluded that voter fraud, including noncitizen voting, is “extremely rare.” In one analysis of the first three years of a Justice Department initiative to uncover voter fraud ending in 2005, she found that there were only 14 convictions of noncitizens for voting.
  • In another study, Minnite examined all complaints of voter misconduct received by the California and Oregon Secretaries of State for more than a decade. California received a total of 28 complaints of noncitizen voting, and Oregon, five. Out of that total, there were only four convictions.
  • In 2007, the Brennan Center for Justice conducted a nationwide survey of a decade of news accounts and other complaints of noncitizen voting. The results showed that allegations of noncitizen voting that prove unfounded are far more common than allegations that turn out to be true. Some of the exaggerated or baseless allegations highlighted in that study include: A 2005 investigation into 1,668 Washington residents with “foreign-sounding names” which turned up no noncitizens; a 2000 investigation into 553 Hawaiians alleged to be improperly registered noncitizens, but none of whom had voted, and 2001 investigation in Milwaukee of 370,000 voting records that found four potential instances of naturalized persons voting before their naturalization date. Even if one accepts all of the allegations of noncitizen voting as true, noncitizens voters would have accounted for between .0002 percent and .017 percent of the votes in the relevant jurisdiction.

State Investigations Uncover Almost No Instances of Noncitizen Voting

  • A 2010 survey of Minnesota county attorneys found that, in the 18 months following the 2008 election, only nine incidents of possible noncitizen voting had been investigated out of 2.9 million ballots cast. None of these nine incidents resulted in a conviction.
  • New Mexico’s Secretary of State reviewed that state’s list of 1.2 million voters in 2011. The Secretary of State’s office only referred nine individuals to the Attorney General for investigation about their citizenship status.
  • In a 2013 letter to the North Carolina General Assembly, the Executive Director of the Board of Elections detailed every case of potential voter fraud in the state from 2002 to 2012. In those years, the Board of Elections referred 58 cases of potential noncitizen voting to prosecutors for further investigation. Considering that 19.5 million votes were cast in that time and assuming every allegation were true, noncitizen votes would have amounted to .0003 percent of the total.
  • In a check of the registration rolls in 2013 and 2015, Ohio Secretary of State’s concluded that 44 noncitizens voted in at least one election dating back to 2000. By way of reference, there were 3.26 million ballots cast in Ohio in 2015. “None of these affected the outcome of an election,” Ohio Secretary of State John Husted told The Columbus Dispatch.
  • Iowa spent $250,000 from 2012 to 2014 looking into potential noncitizen voters. They started with 3,000 individuals registered to vote who had at some point identified as noncitizens. That led to investigations of 147 individuals who had cast ballots. After two years of investigation, county attorneys brought charges against just 10 alleged noncitizens.

Nationwide Surveys by Journalists Also Found That Noncitizen Voting Is Practically Nonexistent

  • After the 2016 election, The New York Times surveyed election and law enforcement officials in 49 states and the District of Columbia. They learned of two possible instances of noncitizens voting – out of 137.7 million voters nationwide.
  • The Washington Post also did a survey after the 2016 election. They compiled reports from the Nexis database. In all, the Post found four demonstrated cases of any type of voter fraud, and no instances of noncitizens voting.
  • News21, an investigative reporting project based at Arizona State University, reviewed all reported instances of voter fraud from 2000 to 2012. They found 56 cases of alleged noncitizen voting. Even assuming all of these allegations are true, and all of these noncitizens voted in 2016, it would total approximately .00004 percent of all ballots cast.    

Past Representations of Noncitizen Voting By Partisan Officials Have Been Disproved

  • In 2012, at the request of the Governor, Florida’s Secretary of State set out to purge the state’s voter rolls of noncitizens. Out of 12 million registered, active voters, officials claimed to have found 180,000 potential noncitizens. Yet after all the errors on that list were uncovered, only 85 names were removed from the rolls as alleged noncitizens, and only one person was convicted of fraud.
  • In 2012, Michigan’s Secretary of State claimed that as many as 4,000 noncitizens were registered to vote. In the end, only ten people were referred to the state attorney general for further investigation because they had voted.
  • Also in 2012, Colorado’s Secretary of State claimed that 11,805 noncitizens were registered to vote. Ultimately the state identified just 35 individuals on the rolls who were allegedly noncitizens and had voted.

It is not surprising that noncitizen voting is rare. In addition to massive fines and time in prison, a noncitizen would risk deportation or derailing their naturalization process by voting. Moreover, many undocumented individuals are reluctant to interact with government officials.