In the last couple of days my 2014 article on non-citizen voting (coauthored with David Earnest and Gulshan Chattha) has received a great deal of attention as Donald Trump has been quoting from it  on the campaign trail.  Two important questions must be addressed in thinking about this piece and the current election.  First, are its results valid.  And second, what are their implications in the context of 2016.

Our initial study was critiqued by Steve Ansolabehere and coauthors in a 2015 note published in Electoral Studies.  A copy of our working paper that responds to this critique is available here on my website.  You can also find this link on the Working Papers page of my website.  We stand by our study, but we encourage people to read the critiques too.

What about the 2016 election?  Both sides of the debate on non-citizen voting have exaggerated our findings concerning non-citizen representation. 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.

We found low but non-zero levels of non-citizen participation in elections. These levels are sufficient to change the outcomes in extremely close elections, as we illustrated in the paper. But one should keep in mind that such elections can be swayed by any number of factors that arguably bias election results toward, or against, particular parties and candidates. Put another way, our results suggest that almost all elections in the US are not determined by non-citizen participation, with occasional and very rare potential exceptions.

On this vein, we would also like to remind readers that we were merely raising the MN Senate race and the NC electoral college outcome as examples of the types of races that could be swayed by non-citizen participation. 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. We used terms like plausible rather than anything more definitive.

The upshot is that non-citizen voting is one of a wide range of challenges we might want to be concerned with when it comes to the fairness and efficient operation of our elections.  But our analysis provides little reason to think that the sky is falling.


All postings on this website represent the opinions, analyses, and interpretations of the author alone.