Did Non-US Citizens Elect Al Franken?

Jesse Richman and David Earnest used data from the Cooperative Congressional Election Study to estimate how many non-citizens may have voted in the 2008 and 2010 elections. Their findings suggest that these ineligible voters turned out in numbers large enough to swing some close races:

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. Non-citizen votes could have given Senate Democrats the pivotal 60th vote needed to overcome filibusters in order to pass health-care reform and other Obama administration priorities in the 111th Congress. Sen. Al Franken (D-Minn.) won election in 2008 with a victory margin of 312 votes. Votes cast by just 0.65 percent of Minnesota non-citizens could account for this margin. It is also possible that non-citizen votes were responsible for Obama’s 2008 victory in North Carolina. Obama won the state by 14,177 votes, so a turnout by 5.1 percent of North Carolina’s adult non-citizens would have provided this victory margin.

The authors acknowledge that the CCES’s samples of non-citizen respondents are quite small (339 in 2008 and 489 in 2010) and that their extrapolated guesses are not exact. They express more confidence, however, in their claim that Franken was elected with illegal votes. Interestingly, they also find evidence that voter ID laws would not have prevented all of these non-citizens from voting, as “[n]early three quarters of the non-citizens who indicated they were asked to provide photo identification at the polls claimed to have subsequently voted”. Still, this will be enough for champions of voter ID laws on the right to claim that they told you so, as Allahpundit does here:

Obama winning a state illegally in a presidential election is bad but will be dismissed on grounds that it didn’t affect the overall result. Flip North Carolina to McCain’s column and it’s still a giant blowout. Franken winning a Minnesota seat illegally is a different ballgame. He was the 60th vote for ObamaCare. Replace him in the Senate with Norm Coleman and the law probably never passes. The authors are arguing overtly that health-care reform was made possible only by illegal votes. There are a bunch of races this year that could end up with whisper-thin margins of victory as well — Perdue versus Nunn in Georgia, Cassidy versus Landrieu in Louisiana, Tillis versus Hagan in North Carolina, even Gardner versus Udall in Colorado. If Democrats eke out victories in a few of those by a few thousand or even a few hundred votes, why would you believe after reading this study that those victories were fairly earned? And remember, as a Twitter pal points out, the numbers in the study are based on non-citizens who admitted to voting when asked. How many voted and were smart enough not to cop to it?


[S]ome respondents might have mistakenly misreported their citizenship status on this survey (e.g. response error). For, as Richman et al. state in their Electoral Studies article, “If most or all of the ‘non-citizens’ who indicated that they voted were in fact citizens who accidentally misstated their citizenship status, then the data would have nothing to contribute concerning the frequency of non-citizen voting.” In fact, any response error in self-reported citizenship status could have substantially altered the authors’ conclusions because they were only able to validate the votes of five respondents who claimed to be non-citizen voters in the 2008 CCES.

It turns out that such response error was common for self-reported non-citizens in the 2010-2012 CCES Panel Study … To be sure, my quick analysis does not at all disprove Richman et al’s conclusion that a large enough number of non-citizens are voting in elections to tip the balance for Democrats in very close races. It does, however, suggest that the CCES is probably not an appropriate data source for testing such claims.

Meanwhile, Rich Lowry defends voter ID laws by turning to a GAO report suggesting “that the number of voters getting locked out by voter ID laws is diminishingly small”:

According to the GAO, in Kansas in 2012, 1,115,281 ballots were cast. There were 38,865 provisional ballots, and of these, 838 were cast for voter ID reasons. In Tennessee, 2,480,182 ballots were cast. There were 7,089 provisional ballots and of these, 673 were cast for voter ID reasons. In both states, about 30 percent of these voter ID-related provisional ballots were ultimately accepted. That means in Kansas and Tennessee, altogether about 1,000 ballots weren’t counted (and perhaps many of them for good reason), out of roughly 3.5 million cast. There you have it ladies and gentlemen, voter suppression! It is of such stuff that Jim Crow was made.

Chait dismantles this argument:

The GAO also studied the impact of vote restrictions in Kansas and Tennessee and found significant reductions in the African-American vote. Lowry says that the Republicans in those states “dispute the methodology,” and takes their side. What the dispute over methodology really shows is that the impact of one change in voting laws is extremely hard to prove. A natural response would be to fall back on the intuitive premise that raising the cost of voting reduces voting. But conservatives seem reluctant to apply their normal beliefs in markets to this question. …

Is it possible that some of the prospective voters who lacked the requisite identification did not show up at the polls at all? Lowry does not consider the possibility.

Emily Badger takes on another aspect of Lowry’s reasoning:

What stands out about this argument is the idea that any disenfranchisement would be OK, when a central rationale for voter ID laws in the first place is that any voter fraud is not. Researchers have repeatedly documented that voter fraud — especially of the kind that might be caught by ID laws — is exceptionally rare. The supporters of ID laws don’t always dispute this. But they often say, as Wisconsin Governor Scott Walker does here, that the scale of fraudulent voting is irrelevant[.] … If you’re absolutist about elections and feel that a single case of voter fraud averted by ID laws justifies their existence, then it doesn’t add up to also argue that any number of people disenfranchised by the creation of those laws is just the cost of protecting democracy.

Dahlia Lithwick sees a similar error at work in the way conservative judges have decided recent cases concerning Texas’s voter ID and abortion laws:

The 5th Circuit evinced a kind of Marie Antoinette approach to individual justice in these cases. When it shut down access to both voting and abortion in Texas, it indicated without precisely saying so that as long as citizens have fast cars and flexible work schedules, they are not burdened by Texas’ regulations. And seemingly there are no Texans without fast cars and vacation time in their view. At oral argument in the case about the shutdown of 20 Texas clinics, Judge Edith Brown of the 5th Circuit heard that abortion clinic closures would leave the Rio Grande area without any providers, forcing women who live there to drive 300 miles round trip to Corpus Christi. The judge sniffed, “Do you know how long that takes in Texas at 75 miles an hour? … This is a peculiarly flat and not congested highway.” …

It’s utterly baffling, this new math. Math that holds that seven incidents of vote fraud should push hundreds and thousands of voters off the rolls. Or that hundreds of thousands of women can be denied access to safe abortion clinics, supposedly to prevent vanishingly small rates of complications. I don’t know how we have arrived at the point where members of the judicial branch—the branch trusted to vindicate the rights of the poorest and most powerless—don’t even see the poor and powerless, much less count them as fully realized humans.