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Republicans in Alabama support voting rights bill for conspiratorial reasons

Republicans in Alabama support voting rights bill for conspiratorial reasons
Republicans in Alabama support voting rights bill for conspiratorial reasons

On Wednesday, the House of Representatives passed the SAVE Act by a vote of 221 to 198. The SAVE Act, short for Safeguard American Voter Eligibility Act, would require states to verify proof of citizenship when registering voters.

The bill is the latest legislative initiative inspired by conservative conspiracy theories that Democrats are committing voter fraud by allowing illegal immigrants to vote. When House Speaker Mike Johnson was asked for examples in May, he would only say that Americans “intuitively know that many illegal immigrants vote in federal elections” and that it is “not easy to prove.”

The lack of hard evidence has not stopped many politicians in Alabama from arguing that more restrictions on non-citizen voting are needed to stop Democrats from rigging elections. Alabama Rep. Barry Moore claimed in a statement, “Democrats want non-citizens to vote because they know most Americans do not support their radical agenda.”

Alabama’s 5th District Congressman Dale Strong said that by opposing the SAVE Act, Democrats “made it clear that they support foreign interference in U.S. elections.”

And Alabama Senator Tommy Tuberville tweeted: “Corrupt Joe Biden and Kamala Harris let MILLIONS of illegals into this country and now they want them to vote in our elections.”

But as Democrats in Congress, President Biden, and voting rights organizations have all made clear, it is already explicitly illegal for noncitizens to vote in federal elections. While some communities have passed laws allowing green card holders to vote in local elections, no prominent Democratic politician has advocated allowing noncitizens to vote in federal elections.

In addition, the League of Women Voters points out that “voters in all states already have to confirm or prove their citizenship status when registering to vote.” Democrats have also not advocated for the elimination of this requirement.

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Noncitizens attempting to register to vote are also incredibly rare, and noncitizens actually voting are even rarer. A 2017 report by the Brennan Center for Justice found that “only an estimated 30 cases of allegedly Noncitizens who vote” (emphasis added) out of over 20 million votes cast in the jurisdictions studied. A 2022 review in Georgia found that in 25 years, only 1,634 noncitizens attempted to register: not a single one succeeded.

Rather than barring noncitizens from voting, the SAVE Act, if passed by the Senate and enacted into law, would essentially mean that citizens would have to not only affirm their U.S. citizenship but also actively prove that they have it.

Specifically, potential voters would need to provide:

  • REAL ID compliant ID that “indicates that the applicant is a citizen”
  • A US passport
  • A military ID card with “proof of service showing that the applicant was born in the United States”
  • Or other photo identification that either shows a place of birth in the United States or is presented along with a birth certificate, adoption records, or other proof of citizenship

Because driver’s licenses (the most common form of REAL ID-compliant identification) do not indicate citizenship status in most states, the bill would require either a passport or both an ID card and some other proof of citizenship. According to the U.S. Department of State, fewer than half of all Americans have a valid passport.

Terri Sewell, Alabama’s only Democratic congresswoman, called the SAVE ACT in the House of Representatives a “dangerous, undemocratic bill that would do nothing to protect our elections.”

She pointed to the rules that regularly purge non-citizens from the voter rolls, saying they would also “purge thousands of eligible voters from the rolls, including Americans who recently married and changed their last names, as well as people with military or tribal ID cards.”

“With state legislatures working overtime to erect obstacles at the ballot box, protecting voting rights at the federal level is as urgent today as it was 60 years ago,” Sewell said. “After all, it is the voters’ choice to elect our elected politicians, not the other way around.”

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Sewell again called on Congress to consider and pass the John R. Lewis Voting Rights Advancement Act. The bill, named after the now-deceased civil rights hero and congressman, would make it more difficult to change voting laws in potentially discriminatory ways.

The campaign against alleged non-citizen voting in recent months is reminiscent of Trump’s attacks on mail-in voting in the run-up to the 2020 election. In both cases, Republicans questioned the integrity of American elections on the basis of minimal hard evidence, while complaining that Americans had “lost faith in our electoral process,” as Rep. Gary Palmer of Alabama said.

It seems possible that non-citizen voting – similar to mail-in voting in 2020 – could provide Trump with justification to contest the outcome of the presidential election if he loses in November of this year.

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