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Alabama Republicans support the voter eligibility bill on conspiratorial grounds

Rep. Terri Sewell pushed back against the Republican-supported SAVE Act, calling it “a dangerous, anti-democratic bill.”

Voting challenges and election problem or voter suppression and campaign vote concept as ballots at a polling station as a maze blocking and disenfranchise a democratic right in a democracy
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On Wednesday, the House of Representatives passed the SAVE Act in a 221-198 vote. Short for the Safeguard American Voter Eligibility Act, the SAVE Act would require states to verify proof of citizenship when people register to vote.

The bill is the latest legislative effort inspired by conservative conspiracy theories about Democrats stealing elections by letting illegal immigrants vote. When asked for examples in May, Speaker of the House Mike Johnson just said that Americans “know, intuitively, that a lot of illegals are voting in federal elections” and that it was not “something that is easily provable.”

The dearth of hard evidence has not prevented many Alabama politicians from arguing that more restrictions on noncitizens voting are needed to stop Democrats from stealing elections. Alabama Rep. Barry Moore claimed in one statement that “Democrats want non-citizens to vote because they know most Americans don’t support their radical agenda.”

The Congressman from Alabama’s 5th District, Dale Strong, said “Democrats have made clear that they support foreign nationals interfering in U.S. elections” by opposing the SAVE Act.

And Alabama Senator Tommy Tuberville tweeted that “Corrupt Joe Biden and Kamala Harris have let MILLIONS of illegals into this country, and now they want them to vote in our elections.”

However, as Democrats in Congress, President Biden, and voting rights organizations have all publicized, voting in federal elections as a noncitizen is already explicitly illegal. While some municipalities have passed laws to let Green Card holders vote in local elections, no prominent Democratic politicians have pushed to let noncitizens vote in federal elections.

Plus, the League of Women Voters points out that “voters in every state are already required to affirm or verify their citizenship status when registering to vote.” Democrats have not pushed to remove this requirement either.

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Noncitizens attempting to register to vote is also incredibly rare, and noncitizens actually voting even rarer. A 2017 report from the Brennan Center for Justice found “only an estimated 30 incidents of suspected noncitizen voting” [emphasis added] out of over 20 million votes cast in the jurisdictions they researched. A 2022 audit in Georgia found that just 1,634 noncitizens attempted to register in 25 years: Not one even successfully registered.

Rather than preventing noncitizens from voting, the primary effect of the SAVE Act, if passed by the Senate and signed into law, would be requiring citizens to actively prove that they are a U.S. citizen in addition to affirming it.

Specifically, prospective voters would need to provide:

  • REAL ID compliant identification that “indicates the applicant is a citizen”
  • A US passport
  • A military ID with a “record of service showing that the applicant’s place of birth was in the United States”
  • Or another photo ID which either shows a place of birth in the United States or is presented along with a birth certificate, adoption records, or other proof of citizenship

As driver licenses (by far the most common form of REAL ID compliant identification) don’t show citizenship status in most states, effectively the bill would require either a passport or both an ID and other proof of citizenship. According to the U.S. State Department, less than half of all Americans have a valid passport.

Alabama’s only Democratic member of Congress, Terri Sewell, called the SAVE ACT “a dangerous, anti-democratic bill that would do nothing to protect our elections” on the House floor.

She pointed to the requirements to regularly remove noncitizens from voting rolls and said they would also “purge thousands of eligible voters from the rolls including Americans who recently got married and changed their last names and those with military and tribal IDs.”

“With state lawmakers working overtime to erect barriers to the ballot box, the need for federal voting rights protections is just as urgent today as it was 60 years ago,” Sewell said. “After all, it is up to the voters to choose our elected leaders, not the other way around.”

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Sewell again called for Congress to consider and pass the John R. Lewis Voting Rights Advancement Act. Named after the now deceased civil rights hero and Congressman, the bill would make it harder to change election law in potentially discriminatory ways.

The campaign against supposed noncitizen voting in recent months is reminiscent of Trump’s attacks on voting-by-mail in the lead-up to the 2020 election. In both cases, Republicans called the integrity of American elections into doubt based on minimal hard evidence and simultaneously complained that Americans had “lost trust in our election process,” as Alabama Rep. Gary Palmer has said.

It seems possible that, like absentee voting in 2020, noncitizen voting could provide the justification for Trump to challenge the results of the presidential election if he loses this November.

Chance Phillips is a reporting intern at the Alabama Political Reporter. You can reach him at [email protected].

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