Flawed Study Aims to Build The Myth of Non-Citizen Voter Fraud

In many states including New York, last Friday was the deadline to register to vote in time for this year’s presidential and congressional elections.

As of today there are six or seven states in the “tossup” category — depending on whether you ask Pollster.com, CNN or Real Clear Politics. In the midst of this close race, several states (including Virginia, one of the states that have retained battleground status over the past few months) are reporting record numbers of new voter registrations pouring into election offices. Undecided voters in those states have increasingly become the candidates’ elusive prey via a no-holds-barred multimedia ad blitz, as Feet in 2 Worlds has reported over the past few months.

Many constituencies have fallen into the “swing voter” category in this election cycle: Latinos, immigrants, white middle-class mothers, white working-class men, even so-called Reagan Democrats. With Barack Obama leading John McCain by only five percentage points in today’s daily Rasmussen tracking poll, these swing votes will prove crucial to winning in November.

According to a controversial new study, immigrants who are not American citizens are the latest addition to the swing voter crowd.

That’s the central claim of a new study [click for .pdf file] by David Simcox released last week under the title: How Many Non-Citizen Voters? Enough to Make a Difference: The Impact of Non-Citizen Voting on the American Elections.

The study alleges 1.2 to 2.7 million non-citizen immigrants have illegally registered to vote throughout the country, and could tip the balance of this year’s election.

However, civil and immigrant rights groups raised questions about the impartiality of the study, which was commissioned and released by The Social Contract Press, a publishing house headed by John Tanton.Tanton founded the national anti-immigrant group Federation for American Immigration Reform (FAIR), which the Southern Poverty Law Center recently added to its list of hate groups.

According to his statement at the press conference to unveil the study’s results, Simcox looked at counties and congressional districts in seven states – New York, New Jersey, Illinois, California, Florida, Texas and Arizona- where Simcox says the number of registered voters exceeded the number of eligible voters (i.e., those who are citizens and will be at least 18 years old by Election Day.)Simcox declared the discrepancy between those who are registered and those who are eligible to register stems from non-citizens who have illegally registered to vote.

One of the districts Simcox analyzed is Brooklyn’s 11th Congressional District, currently represented by Rep. Yvette Clarke.Clarke’s mother, Una, the New York City Council’s first Caribbean-born member, hails from Jamaica and ran for the very same seat against longtime incumbent Major Owens in 2000.Una Clarke narrowly lost the race amid widespread allegations of voting irregularities and partisan voter intimidation aimed at immigrant voters who voted for her in large numbers. The U.S. Department of Justice conducted an investigation into some of the allegations, but no charges were filed.

The 11th District remains a heavily immigrant neighborhood, with many residents originally from the Caribbean and Latin America. In 2006, the district had a total of 360,883 registered voters out of 377,300 residents eligible to vote, according to the New York State Board of Elections voter rolls.Census Bureau figures show that in 2006 the district had 485,000 residents above the age of 18, and 122,994 non-citizens.

Simcox alleges the district’s 95% voter registration rate is higher than the state average of 91%, and that this indicates there are 2,300 ‘over-registered’ voters in the district — all of whom are non-citizens.

Simcox’s logic, however, has many flaws.

First, there is no way to determine which registered voters are immigrants, as the voter registration form does not ask voters whether they were born outside the U.S.

Second, making the assumption that high rates of voter registration are the result of non-citizens registering to vote is an example, as statisticians would say, of correlation, not causality.Meaning: high numbers of non-citizens and registered voters in a particular district does not mean those non-citizens are registered to vote.

Thirdly, assuming that high rates of voter registration in heavily immigrant districts does not necessarily point to questionable registrations.  Rather, they point to engaged voters – immigrant and native-born.  Like most other voters, immigrants are keenly observing this year’s elections – and they also know they have a real investment in the outcome on November 4.  From immigration reform to the economy, education, foreign policy and trade, many issues important to immigrant voters are on the table this year.

Finally, there is a strong incentive for non-citizens to not register to vote: registering to vote if you are ineligible is a felony, and could result in deportation for a non-citizen.

Many academics and voting experts have documented how hard it is to illegally register to vote.  A recent study [click for .pdf file] by Barnard College Professor Lorraine Minnite said claims that “thousands of non-citizens are registered to vote and that laws prohibiting non-citizen voting are ignored and undermined by government officials are not supported by [t]his evidence or any other.”  Click here to listen to Minnite’s recent discussion of the topic on WNYC’s Brian Lehrer Show.

Of course, there are still open questions as to whether election offices can cope with the deluge of new voter registrations. The New York Immigration Coalition, the state’s largest new citizen voter registration effort, delivered  over 1,200 voter registration forms from new citizens to the New York City Board of Elections last week, and has registered over 275,000 immigrants to vote in the past twelve years alone, according to Alan Kaplan, the NYIC’s Civic and Electoral Program Coordinator.

Similar efforts continue at a national level through the We Are America Alliance, which aims to register 500,000 immigrants and reach one million immigrant voters with get-out-the-vote efforts in time for the Nov. 4 election.