Debunking Time’s “fact check” on non-citizen voting

posted at 4:01 pm on February 15, 2017 by Jazz Shaw

The new status quo in the mainstream media is a generally accepted insistence that Donald Trump and the White House staff are a group of unrepentant liars and that proper reporting must always include clear statements when falsehoods are uttered. This is generally followed by a “fact check” which purports to set the record straight. Time Magazine engages in this practice this week with yet another duplicitous report on the potential for voter fraud committed by illegal immigrants and legally residing aliens, describing the White House comments as, “its false and widely-criticized assertion.” Unfortunately, the “fact check” falls into the same trap which catches most MSM personalities. Since everyone seems to be being held to the same standard these days, it’s only fair that we correct the correction of the record.

Let’s begin with the author’s assertion that non-citizen voting is incredibly rare.

Multiple nationwide studies have uncovered only a handful of incidents of non-citizens voting. Based on state prosecution records, votes by non-citizens account for between 0.0003 percent and 0.001 percent of all votes cast. Election officials agree that there is no serious problem of non-citizen voting in our elections.

Yes, it’s true. “Multiple studies” have definitely reached that conclusion. And yet again we are forced to point out that those studies are almost entirely based on, as the article clearly states, prosecutions. This means that they are counting the total number of instances where an illegal vote was definitively found to have been cast and the bad actor in question was prosecuted. I don’t know how many times we have to keep saying this, but you’re only counting the people that we actually catch. When you can answer the question of how many we are not catching then we might begin to take you seriously.

Moving on, we come to their next contention which is that non-citizens wouldn’t even want to attempt to vote because the penalties for doing so are so high.

Penalties for a non-citizen voting or registering to vote are severe.
Under federal law, any non-citizen that votes can be fined up to $100,000 and imprisoned for up to one year or three years if they intentionally misrepresented their citizenship status. States have their own equally harsh penalties. In one recent high-profile example, a permanent resident in Texas was sentenced to eight years in prison for voting.

Again, this is absolutely true. There are some serious penalties in store for those who are actually caught. However, the disincentive to commit any crime is directly proportional to the suspect’s perception that they might actually be caught. People are (hopefully) at least somewhat less likely to commit murder because they know that law enforcement will be hot on their trail and the resulting penalty could include the loss of their own life. When almost nobody is actually looking for illegal voting (more on that below) that disincentive essentially disappears. And oh, just by the way, the author finished that paragraph by citing an example of someone who actually was caught.

The article next goes on to make two claims in tandem, both of which are laughable. The first is that it’s “not hard to identify” people who are voting illegally and, even more shockingly, that “many people are looking.” Let’s tackle these two in order.

It’s not hard to identify non-citizen voting — and many people are looking.
Unlike voter impersonation fraud, which is also exceptionally rare, non-citizen voting involves ineligible persons registering and voting in their own names. If a non-citizen were to vote, their name would be permanently listed in the record of persons who voted in that election as well as on the list of registered voters in that jurisdiction for as long as they remain registered.

The first assertion relies a semantic trick. The article is limiting their definition of non-citizen voting to aliens who actually attempt to register and then vote in their own name. It’s not that that doesn’t happen. The successful prosecution referenced above involved a person who did precisely that. And when you have policies which involve lax people handling the registration process, clearly a few are going to slip through. Far more likely however, is the scenario where people seeking a false identification card are given a voter registration card with either a stolen identity, the name of someone who has moved or the name of a deceased voter. The numbers being cited in the article do not take this into account.

Now let’s tackle the assertion that lots of people are looking.

The registration and voting records enable several different stakeholders to identify any non-citizens who voted in an election. First, state election officials are required by law to regularly scour the voter rolls for ineligible voters. Many have used the list comparison technique to comb through their entire list of registered voters, and still found minimal evidence of non-citizens voting. In 2012, Florida conducted this type of analysis of its list of 12 million registered, active voters. At first the state believed it had identified 180,000 potential ineligible voters by searching a state database with out-of-date citizenship information. Upon further investigation, the state narrowed that list down to 2,600 and sent it on to county election officials for review. After the counties conducted their own investigations, Florida removed just 85 ineligible registrants from their statewide list and only one person was convicted for fraud.

Nobody is arguing that states do not have the power to scour the records and detect fraudulent registrations. The question at hand is whether or not any of them are actually doing it and, if so, how often. You are citing the example in Florida. Did you notice that you had to go back to 2012 to find an instance of them doing it? And while the final tally of bad registrations may have come in at under 100, that’s nearly 100 out of only the sample that was selected. The fact is that in most states this simply is not happening. Take for example California, where they recently discovered a multitude of instances of dead people voting in a couple of counties near Los Angeles.That wasn’t done by the government. That was the result of some reporters actually doing their jobs. If the government had been doing it on a regular basis the media would not have to pick up the slack. (And even that is exceptionally rare.)

All in all the Time Magazine article does a fine job of stating a number of things which are true while omitting the rest of the facts which actually make the argument against what they are saying. This is not to say that I or anyone else knows precisely how much voting by non-citizens is taking place. The point is, neither do the folks claiming that it’s not an issue. And, for the bazillionth time… wouldn’t you want to know either way?


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