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Study Finds Up to a Third of All Non-Citizens in the United States are Illegally


by James Agresti

 

Based on the latest available data and an enhanced version of a stress-tested methodology from a scholarly journal, a new study by Just Facts has found that about 10 percent to 27 percent of non-citizen adults in the U.S. are now illegally registered to vote.

The U.S. Census recorded more than 19 million adult non-citizens living in the U.S. during 2022. Given their voter registration rates, this means that about two million to five million of them are illegally registered to vote. These figures are potentially high enough to overturn the will of the American people in major elections, including congressional seats and the presidency.

In 2014, the academic journal Electoral Studies published a groundbreaking study by three scholars who estimated how frequently non-citizens were illegally voting. Based on data for the 2008 presidential and congressional elections, the study found that:

  • “roughly one quarter of non-citizens” in the U.S. “were likely registered to vote;”
  • “6.4 percent of non-citizens actually voted;”
  • 81.8 percent of them “reported voting for Barack Obama;” and
  • illegal votes cast by non-citizens “likely” changed “important election outcomes” in favor of Democrats, “including Electoral College votes” and a “pivotal” U.S. Senate race that enabled Democrats to pass Obamacare.

The study’s voter registration rate was estimated with data from two key sources:

  1. A national survey in which 14.8 percent of non-citizens admitted that they were registered to vote.
  2. A database of registered voters that reveals what portion of the surveyed non-citizens “were in fact registered” even though “they claimed not to be registered.”

By combining these data, the author’s “best” estimate was that 25.1 percent of non-citizens were illegally registered to vote.

The authors calculated voter turnout with the same datasets, but their methodology yielded a best estimate that 6.4 percent of non-citizens voted in 2008 — lower than the 8.0 percent of non-citizens who stated “I definitely voted” and explicitly named the candidate they voted for. This and other matters led Just Facts to engage in extensive correspondence with the lead author of the study to verify practically every detail of it.

Just Facts then conducted a comparable study that used the same datasets, a more straightforward methodology, and related studies to constrain assumptions. This found that roughly 27 percent of non-citizens were registered to vote and about 16 percent of them voted in the 2008 national elections.

As is often the case with studies of illegal actions where enforcement is limited, both Just Facts’ study and the one from Electoral Studies have sizeable margins of uncertainty. This is due to relatively small sample sizes and other possible sources of error — some that could produce overcounts and others undercounts.

“Fact Checks”

So-called fact checkers and certain scholars have repeatedly tried to dispute the Electoral Studies paper and Just Facts’ study. However, their criticisms were mathematically illiterate and laced with unrealistic assumptions, empty arguments, half-truths, and outright falsehoods.

Now, the Washington Post’s lead “fact checker,” Glenn Kessler, claims to have uncovered new evidence that undercuts the results of the 2014 Electoral Studies paper and Just Facts’ research. This consists of a previously sealed “Expert Report” on non-citizen voting for a 2023 Arizona court case.

Notably, the report was written by the lead author of the Electoral Studies paper, Dr. Jesse Richman, an Associate Professor of Political Science and International Studies at Old Dominion University.

In an article titled “The Truth About Noncitizen Voting in Federal Elections,” Kessler quotes several figures from Richman’s 2023 report suggesting that about 1 percent of non-citizens are registered to vote. This is drastically below the “best” estimate of 25 percent from Richman’s 2014 paper.

The glaring disparity between the 2014 and 2023 figures prompted Just Facts to scrutinize the methodologies used to produce them. This research revealed that all of the 1 percent figures are lowball estimates. This was confirmed when Just Facts questioned Richman, who responded:

An important element of context for the Arizona report is that it was written as an expert report in a court case (and indeed it was a confidential part of the case until it got subpoenaed). In that context my focus was on identifying and explicating the evidence most robust to cross-examination. Thus, my goal was to explain to the court the results and the datasets where as many possible counter-arguments concerning how the estimate could be biased upwards were closed off. Of course, no choice about which analyses to focus on comes without tradeoffs. And the tradeoff from focus on analyses where one can minimize the risk that the estimate could be biased upwards is that there is potentially an increased risk that the estimate could be biased downwards.

Beyond portraying minimums as best estimates, Kessler also misleads his readers with a half-truth that the 2014 paper estimated “6.4 percent of noncitizens voted in 2008 and 2.2 percent voted in 2010.” What Kessler fails to reveal is that 2010 was a mid-term election, and Richman explained in Kessler’s newspaper that “these are the patterns one would expect to see if the measures retained validity and non-citizens were a group mobilized more in presidential election years than midterms.”

In another ruse, Kessler criticizes and links to a study by Just Facts while coyly describing it as the work of “one researcher.” This avoids the scholarly track record of the organization and the fact that two Ph.D.’s who specialize in data analytics vetted the study and described it as “methodologically sound,” “fair in its conclusions,” and “credible.”

Kessler also misreports the results of Just Facts’ study by claiming that it found non-citizens gave Biden “almost an additional 18,000 votes” in Arizona in 2020. In reality, the study plainly states that non-citizens gave Biden an “extra” “51,081 ± 17,689” votes in Arizona. This equals 33,000 to 69,000 — not 18,000.

Ironically, Donald Trump was indicted by a D.C. grand jury for accurately citing the lower bound of those figures.

The Latest Data and Study

The redeeming element of Kessler’s article is that it alerted Just Facts to the existence of non-citizen voter registration data from 2022. This enabled Just Facts to update previous studies on this issue with the latest available information.

Using an enhanced version of the methodology that yielded the same “best” registration rate as the 2014 Electoral Studies paper, Just Facts’ new study finds that roughly 10 percent to 27 percent of non-citizen adults in the U.S. are now registered to vote.

The data and methodology of the study are detailed in this spreadsheet. Enhancements over previous studies include:

  • a more precise formula to calculate sampling margins of error.
  • the use of dual methodologies to account for varying possibilities.
  • multiple citizenship questions in the survey that limit the possibility of honest mistakes by survey respondents.

As with other studies of illegal actions, there are uncertainties in the results. For example, the study assumes that all people who claim to be “citizens” in the survey actually are citizens. This is unlikely given that the journal Demographic Research published a study in 2013 which found that certain major groups of non-citizens often falsely claim to be citizens in Census surveys. If these dishonest survey respondents register to vote at higher or lower rates than other non-citizens, this could skew the results of the study.

Standards for high quality research require that assumptions be “explicit and justified” to provide “a fully ethical presentation of scientific data.” This standard has been brazenly and repeatedly flouted by scholars who downplay voting by non-citizens. In contrast, the assumptions and justifications of Just Facts’ study are provided here.

Potential Impacts

In presidential elections, roughly half of non-citizens who are registered turn out to vote. Given that about 10 percent to 27 percent of them are currently registered, this means about 5 percent to 13 percent of them will illegally vote in the 2024 presidential and congressional elections.

The U.S. Census recorded a population of 19.7 million voting-age non-citizens in the U.S. during 2022. This is an absolute minimum because the Census doesn’t count masses of non-citizens who falsely claim to be citizens or don’t fill out Census surveys.

Also, the figure of 19.7 million doesn’t include multitudes of non-citizens who’ve entered since 2022. This includes people who legally immigrated, crossed the border illegally, or were allowed into the country under the Biden…



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