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Debunking the “Non-Citizen Voting,” “Census” and “Replacement Theory” Narratives – A Short Resource Guide

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Far too many politicians, pundits, and online commentators with massive audiences are peddling bigoted conspiracies about a plot by elites to use non-white immigrants to undermine our democracy with masses of fraudulent votes and dilute the voting power of “real” Americans. This conspiracy is a version of replacement theory –  a lie rooted in white nationalism and antisemitism that has inspired multiple deadly terrorist attacks in recent years. 

Recently, there has been a reinvigoration of a long-debunked myth about non-citizen voting in federal and state elections. Non-citizens cannot vote in federal or state elections, and strict penalties for violating the law could jeopardize the individual’s ability to remain in the United States. This issue has been deeply researched as the claim is not new, and while there have been a few individual cases, even the most vocal proponents of the myth have failed to turn up any significant evidence of a problem. 

These nativist voices have also been reinvigorating a disinformation narrative that the U.S. Census Bureau, when counting all persons, is counting undocumented immigrants, thus somehow “robbing” the representation of “real” Americans. This conspiratorial disinformation falls apart at a glance, but for those prone to believe the white nationalist great replacement theory, it adds another layer to the plot afoot. 

These nativist lies are advancing a dual-pronged assault on our democracy. The lies sow distrust in the democratic process. But they also create the pretext of voter suppression tactics or designed undercounts in the census to strip representation away under the guise of protecting democratic representation for “real” Americans. 

Below is a short resource guide to provide the facts and bust the harmful myths about “non-citizen voting,” the U.S. Census, and white nationalist great replacement theory:

  • Federal law already bars non-citizens from voting in federal elections, which has been the case for three decades. While the right has been advancing claims that “non-citizen voting” represents a threat to election integrity, including promoting legislation aimed at preventing non-citizens from casting a ballot, this is creating an issue where none exists. Non-citizen voting is already illegal under federal law and is not a common occurrence, as a variety of noted outlets and experts have stated.
  • There is zero evidence of any plot of non-citizen votes to influence elections despite numerous and massive investigations, including by those leading the accusation. There’s no evidence such voting has ever happened on any significant scale,” Axios reported. “Multiple nationwide studies have uncovered only a handful of incidents of non-citizens voting,” the Brennan Center stated. “Election officials agree that there is no serious problem of non-citizen voting in our elections,” likely due to the severe penalties that non-voters can face, including fines, prison time, and even deportation. Even the proponents that peddle the myth of non-citizen voting have been unable to find any evidence despite their repeated claims. 
  • Yes, perpetuating the debunked myth of non-citizen voting can be a coded reference to the white nationalist replacement theory. The idea of noncitizen voting has been widely disproven, and promoting the myth at this point only contributes to the bigoted conspiracy that there is a group inside the United States that threatens our democracy. This myth is often paired with insinuations of a wide-scale plot of cheating to benefit Democrats. 
  • Proof of citizenship requirements are onerous and unnecessary, amounting to voter suppression. The federal courts have rejected proof of citizenship requirements, citing them as unnecessary potential barriers to the ballot. Extensive research has also shown that many United States citizens would be prevented from accessing the franchise. 
  • The claim that including undocumented immigrants in the U.S. Census “devalues your vote by devaluing your congressional representation” is simply false. The U.S. Census is not part of a nefarious plot to erase the votes of “real Americans.” The constitutionally mandated count of all people in the U.S., far from disempowering “real Americans,” ensures that everyone is counted so that all communities get their full federal resources. The more accurate a census count, the better communities’ needs can be met. Besides ensuring that Congressional seats are mostly equally distributed, the Census also helps determine where an estimated $2.8 trillion in federal dollars a year will be spent. Nativists’ anti-immigrant obsession is further highlighted by the fact that they don’t have complaints about other non-voters also counted by the Census – children, prisoners, and millions of permanent residents eligible to become U.S. citizens. In short, there are plenty of people who are counted and who also can’t vote, yet opponents of immigration are not fearmongering based on them. Notably unmentioned by far-right voices is the fact that 95% of all noncitizen growth went to GOP states for the last five years,
  • No, the number of migrant arrivals is not part of a secret plot by the Biden administration to steal the election. The border is not open; in fact, the Biden administration has deported more people than the Trump administration and continually advocated for Congress to allocate more resources to the border. The Biden administration also supported harsh immigration crackdowns in a deal Republicans in the Senate negotiated then walked away from. There is an ongoing refugee crisis, but the challenge is global, with migration increasing all over the world and not unique to the United States. Additionally, those currently pursuing the legal path to asylum may have to wait years before the arduous process created by our outdated system and then many more years before becoming eligible to pursue citizenship and access to the franchise.