Is illegal immigrant voting even a problem in the United States? Donald Trump's immigration policies have long been a target of controversy in news reports, and now President Trump is calling for a "major investigation" into whether an alleged 3 million to 5 million illegal immigrants voted. Critics claim there is no evidence that such voter fraud exists in the United States, but one voter's rights organization, True the Vote, believes the president's concerns over illegal aliens voting are worth considering. In fact, True the Vote claims Trump's "initiative is good for America," and they also confirmed plans to release evidence in 2017.
The drama over illegal immigrants voting started on November 10, 2016, when VoteStand founder Gregg Philips tweeted out that their "best estimates suggest more than 2 million illegals voted on Tuesday. Mechanisms must be deployed to stop illegals from voting." Within several days, Phillips claimed that their system had "verified more than three million votes cast by non-citizens."
When Phillips was asked to release the evidence proving his claims, he responded, "We will release it in open form to the American people. We won't allow the media to spin this first. Sorry."
Phillips went on to say that VoteStand and True the Vote's data was based upon a database of 180 million voters over six years. It is claimed this data will verify his allegations since their database is "enhanced and tagged with non-citizens" and their "methodology requires verification of identity first. 42 percent of the registrations can't verify ID."
On November 27, 2016, Trump's Twitter account repeated the idea, suggesting that he would have "won the popular vote [against Hillary Clinton] if you deduct the millions of people who voted illegally." In response, True the Vote issued a statement saying that it "absolutely supports President-elect Trump's recent comment about the impact of illegal voting".
At first, Trump did not explain on Twitter where he got the idea that illegal immigrants were voting by the millions, but eventually it came out that Trump's source was a 2014 Washington Post/Monkey Cage blog that considered the question of whether non-citizens could determine the outcome of U.S. elections. The blog's data was based upon an estimate of the rate of non-citizens voting in a study published in Electoral Studies.
"How many non-citizens participate in U.S. elections? More than 14 percent of non-citizens in both the 2008 and 2010 samples indicated that they were registered to vote. Furthermore, some of these non-citizens voted. Our best guess, based upon extrapolations from the portion of the sample with a verified vote, is that 6.4 percent of non-citizens voted in 2008 and 2.2 percent of non-citizens voted in 2010. Because non-citizens tended to favor Democrats (Obama won more than 80 percent of the votes of non-citizens in the 2008 CCES sample), we find that this participation was large enough to plausibly account for Democratic victories in a few close elections."
Obviously, this conclusion was highly debated at the time, with a 2015 response co-written by Stephen Ansolabehere of Harvard claiming that the "likely percent of non-citizen voters in recent US elections is 0." Ansolabehere and his co-authors believed the prior study was flawed because the Cooperative Congressional Election Study (CCES) "was not designed to sample non-citizens" and they believed the self-identified "non-citizen" respondents simply were misidentified either because they were confused or clicked the wrong box on the survey. In short, the millions of estimated illegal immigrants who voted were supposedly the result of survey errors.
After the 2016 election was over, Jesse Richman, one of the researchers who wrote the initial Monkey Cage blog, cautioned that their "analysis provides little reason to think that the sky is falling" since the "survey data we used provides no way at all to determine whether in fact the outcomes of these races were or were not in fact swayed by non-citizen participation."
"What about the 2016 election? Both sides of the debate on non-citizen voting have exaggerated our findings concerning non-citizen representation," Richman wrote in a web page on Old Dominion University's website. "There are many on the left side of that debate who have relentlessly sought to discredit our results and want to push the level of estimated non-citizen participation to zero. On the right there has been a tendency to misread our results as proof of massive voter fraud, which we don't think they are. Our focus has been on the data rather than the politics."
When the Green Party wanted vote recounts in Michigan and Pennsylvania, Trump's lawyers issued a statement that seemed to contradict Trump's Twitter comments from earlier. The filing created by the legal team suggested that no evidence for voter fraud in the 2016 election existed and that Jill Stein was attempting "to sow doubts regarding the legitimacy of the presidential election."
"On what basis does Stein seek to disenfranchise Michigan citizens?" the filing said. "None really, save for speculation. All available evidence suggests that the 2016 general election was not tainted by fraud or mistake."
According to the Washington Post, this quote referenced illegal tampering by Russian interference within only the state of Michigan. The Pennsylvania filing was more carefully worded, stating that "there is no evidence -- or even any allegation -- that any tampering with Pennsylvania's voting systems actually occurred." However, on Twitter, Trump specifically stated that he was considering "serious voter fraud in Virginia, New Hampshire and California" to be the source of the alleged problem.
To put the statement of Trump's legal team in context, Jason Miller, a former senior communications advisor for Trump, once was asked about the 2016 vote recount by Jill Stein. When asked for evidence of millions of illegal immigrants voting, Miller highlighted the 2014 Monkey Cage blog but he also cited a Pew Research study.
"Some numbers include the Pew Research study that said approximately 24 million, or one out of every eight, voter registrations in the United States are no longer valid or significantly inaccurate. And in that same Pew Research study, the fact that 2.5 million people have registrations in more than one state."
In response to Miller's comments, the Fact Checker section of the Washington Post claimed the two studies had been "previously debunked." David Becker, the primary author of the Pew Research report, also clarified that the purpose of the study was not to highlight voter fraud.
"We found millions of out of date registration records due to people moving or dying, but found no evidence that voter fraud resulted," Becker tweeted.
Fast forward to after the inauguration and Donald Trump has revived the controversy over illegal immigrants voting and dead voters. The president stated his intentions to launch an investigation in a tweet published early on January 25, 2017.
"I will be asking for a major investigation into VOTER FRAUD, including those registered to vote in two states, those who are illegal and even, those registered to vote who are dead (and many for a long time). Depending on results, we will strengthen up voting procedures!"
So far, it seems unlikely that Congress would support a major investigation like Trump desires. Other Republicans like Paul Ryan have stated that there's no evidence of rampant voter fraud during the 2016 election.
Will there be any evidence forthcoming in 2017? In the past month, Gregg Philips has not discussed the promised evidence for voter fraud any further. When True the Vote was recently asked on Twitter when they planned on releasing their data, they responded that President Trump's "initiative is good for America" and "that free and fair elections benefit everyone."
"It will be months before our research is complete. Many states haven't released their '16 data yet," True the Vote stated on Twitter. "We can't comment on the audit that's underway now, but our research goes back for years."
It will be quite interesting to see if the final report from VoteStand and True the Vote provides evidence for President Donald Trump's investigation. Stay tuned.
[Featured Image by Patrick Sison/AP Images]