IMMIGRATIONThe Right’s Bogus Claims about Noncitizen Voting Fraud

By Walter Olson

Published 24 April 2024

Bogus claims of widespread voter fraud, even when they do not stoke hatred and fear of the foreign‐born, are grossly irresponsible. They exacerbate polarization and malign honest election administrators. Most of all, they undermine public confidence in our election system. The more people believe elections are rigged, the more they are likely to turn their discontents in a direction other than electoral politics. Some will go the passive route of resignation, withdrawing from civic involvements, making themselves the perfect subjects for strongman rule. Others will turn to militia activity or outright violence. Either way, the consequences for the American experiment in liberal democratic self‐rule will be unfortunate.

If you believe Elon Musk, “Democrats” are permitting large numbers of immigrants into the country on purpose in order to win elections. By “ushering in vast numbers of illegals,” he wrote on X March 5, “they are importing voters.” Even if Democrats do deport many unlawfully present persons, they can’t be wholehearted in that effort because “every deportation is a lost vote.” Musk’s co‐thinker on this topic, former president Donald Trump, said in January in Iowa: “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.” And a television ad from Ohio Republican Sen. J. D. Vance claims that current border policies mean “more Democrat voters pouring into this country.” “Treason indeed!” exclaims Musk.

All these men know—although they often fail to concede in their commentaries—that it’s already entirely illegal for anyone who isn’t a citizen to vote in a federal election. (A few municipalities let non‐citizens vote in local races like those for city council and school board.) I suppose their unstated premise could be that some future blanket amnesty would combine with a decree of mass naturalization to eventually enable these millions to vote lawfully. That would require an act of Congress that would go vastly beyond Reagan’s amnesty or any other step in memory and would assuredly not be thinkable in current politics.

In reality, they are promoting the claim, a longstanding one with Trump, that noncitizens already do vote in massive numbers because mere illegality won’t stop them from voting—they already broke the law to get here, didn’t they? (As of 2019, three‐quarters of the foreign‐born population was in fact in the country lawfully, but let’s not get all technical.)


Trump, Musk, and Vance’s baseless accusations undermine public confidence in American elections and are dangerous.


So let’s take up the challenge. It’s true that some laws do get violated a lot. Is the law against non‐citizen voting among them? Does enough such voting go on to sway many electoral outcomes? While it’s impossible to prove a negative, there are ways to assess the probabilities. And as we do, we will find ourselves circling around to another question: If Musk or Trump or Vance have good evidence that this is happening, why haven’t they presented it?