Research Shows Voter Fraud May Have Swung Key 2008 Elections

Al Franken may have won on illegal votes

Voters / AP

Research documenting the effects of non-citizens voting in American elections found that enough non-citizens voted in 2008 that they may have caused a significant impact on the outcomes of several key races.

The research, performed by Old Dominion University professors Jesse Richman and David Earnest, was broken down Tuesday in the Washington Post.

In a forthcoming article in the journal Electoral Studies, we bring real data from big social science survey datasets to bear on the question of whether, to what extent, and for whom non-citizens vote in U.S. elections. Most non-citizens do not register, let alone vote. But enough do that their participation can change the outcome of close races.

Our data comes from the Cooperative Congressional Election Study (CCES). Its large number of observations (32,800 in 2008 and 55,400 in 2010) provide sufficient samples of the non-immigrant sub-population, with 339 non-citizen respondents in 2008 and 489 in 2010. For the 2008 CCES, we also attempted to match respondents to voter files so that we could verify whether they actually voted.

Their research found that more than 14 percent of non-citizens voted in either the 2008 or 2010 elections. The impact of those votes may have been quite large, the professors said.

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.

They also said illegal votes could have tipped North Carolina's 2008 Presidential vote in favor of Barack Obama. Voter identification laws were identified as marginally effective in preventing this form of voter fraud, according to the research.

We also find that one of the favorite policies advocated by conservatives to prevent voter fraud appears strikingly ineffective. Nearly three quarters of the non-citizens who indicated they were asked to provide photo identification at the polls claimed to have subsequently voted.

Instead, Richman and Earnest identified confusion and lack of legal knowledge on the part of those voting illegally as the core issue in their research.

An alternative approach to reducing non-citizen turnout might emphasize public information. Unlike other populations, including naturalized citizens, education is not associated with higher participation among non-citizens. In 2008, non-citizens with less than a college degree were significantly more likely to cast a validated vote, and no non-citizens with a college degree or higher cast a validated vote. This hints at a link between non-citizen voting and lack of awareness about legal barriers.