Kansas Secretary of State Kris Kobach (R) previewed some of the methods President Trump’s sketchy “Elections Integrity” commission will use to study alleged voter fraud, which numerous independent studies have found to be exceedingly rare.
Kobach, who is serving as vice chair of the committee, suggested that the commission will use federal data on green card holders to compare to states’ voter rolls in order to “see how many people are known aliens residing in the United States and also on the voter rolls.”
“The federal government has a database of every known alien who has a green card or a temporary visa. States have in the past asked, ‘Can we please run our voting rolls against that data base and see if any of those aliens are on our voting rolls?'” Kobach said on Tucker Carlson’s show Thursday evening. “The federal government has always said, ‘no.’ Well, now we are going to be able to run that database against one or two states.”
Kobach said that such a study has “never been done before.”
Elections administration experts warned that such an approach would not prove that non-citizens were illegally voting in large numbers, as President Trump has claimed occurred in the 2016 election.
Nate Persily, who served as a senior research director for President Obama’s Presidential Commission on Election Administration, told TPM via email that, because many outside groups do voter registration drives, “you will find a good number of non-citizens, ex-felons, dead people, and other ineligible voters who are registered.”
“Just because ineligible people are registered does not mean they voted,” Persily said, adding:
[Y]ou will also find that some of those ineligible voters on the rolls will then be marked off as having voted in the election. But a large share, if not a majority, of those who end up being marked as having voted — once you investigate those claims as so many state election officials have — will be discovered as having been erroneously checked off by the poll workers because they meant to check off the name that appears above that of the ineligible voter on the voter list or the poll worker mishears the voter’s name.
“Now having said all of that — yes, out of the 136 million people who voted in the last election, there will be hundreds of ineligible voters who voted illegally,” Persily said.
Typically, voters, when registering, have to sign a legal affidavit confirming their citizenship and that meet the other standards, such as residency and age. Experts say that even with the few cases that have found purposeful deception in registering, there is a bigger risk — in erecting barriers such as documentary proof-of-citizenship requirements — of making more eligible people unable to register to vote than cases of fraudulent voting.
When Kobach’s own office provided a list of non-citizens improperly registered in Kansas, as part of the litigation around his proof-of-citizenship voter registration requirement, it was revealed that out of the 18 cases highlighted, only in one instance did the non-citizen actually vote.
Daniel P. Tokaji, an election law professor at The Ohio State University’s Moritz College of Law, pointed out that it’s “very easy to generate false positives – i.e., identify people who appear to be identical to a green-card holder, but really isn’t.”
“Also, even if it were reliably confirmed that someone who is not a citizen is on a registration list, that isn’t the same as voting fraud,” he told TPM in an email. “We don’t know how they get there and, even if they improperly registered themselves, it doesn’t mean they illegally voted.”
Even before Kobach floated this is as a potential technique the committee would use, voting rights advocates predicted that there would be focus on the voter rolls to suggest that fraudulent voting is a widespread problem and advocate for a proof-of-citizenship voter registration requirement or purges of the rolls.
“We already know that our voter rolls have mistakes on them,” Myrna Perez, deputy director of the Democracy Program at the Brennan Center, told TPM Thursday. “There are ways in which we can clean them up that don’t surprise voters and don’t take eligible people off the roles.”