When Texas officials announced in late January that as many as 58,000 noncitizens may have voted illegally in state elections over nearly two decades, top Republicans — including President Trump — quickly warned about the prevalence of voter fraud and the need to crack down on it. But just as quickly, the numbers stopped adding up. First, on Jan. 25, the secretary of state instructed counties to give voters 30 days to prove their citizenship before canceling their registration. Then, four days later, the office began calling local election officials to say that thousands of people on the list were in fact U.S. citizens, eligible to vote.
The episode is the latest in bungled attempts by states to show that huge numbers of noncitizens are registered to vote and have cast ballots in U.S. elections. In North Carolina, legislative leaders said in 2014 that more than 10,000 suspected noncitizens were registered to vote, but state election officials found that number was vastly overstated and determined that only 11 noncitizens voted that fall. In Florida in 2012, a list of 180,000 possible noncitizens ultimately led to the removal 85 voters from the rolls. Similar claims have been made in Colorado, Indiana and Kansas.
Those touting the large numbers, almost all Republicans, say the hunt for evidence of voter fraud is necessary to protect the integrity of elections. But the pattern of overblown proclamations also shows the data is easily misinterpreted — prompting voting rights activists to accuse Republicans of using the numbers to discourage eligible voters to cast ballots.