The Texas Secretary of State’s and Attorney General’s suggestion in late January that 95,000 non-citizens were on the voter lists has turned predictably into a giant mess.
The state relied on a match of driver license and voter list databases. That is despite the chronic problems of large database matching and the high probability that many persons recorded over the past years as non-citizens on the driver license database later become citizens The state has since been walking back its claims.
The Brennan Center was skeptical from the start. Within days of the state’s first announcement it wrote:
Texas has a history of using faulty claims of fraud to justify onerous voter ID laws. In 2011, Texas passed the country’s strictest voter ID law, suggesting it was necessary to prevent supposedly rampant voter fraud. After the Brennan Center and others sued to prevent the implementation of that law (and won), it became clear that the state had virtually no evidence of voter impersonation at the polls. In ruling on the case, the court noted that in the ten years preceding the law’s passage, though there were 20 million votes cast in the state, only two instances of in-person voter impersonation were prosecuted to conviction.
In 2012, Florida officials conducted a similar weak match with driver’s license records that indicated that as many as 180,000 non-citizens were on the state’s rolls. As in Texas, that number made for some splashy headlines, but after accounting for the fact that people may have become citizens after renewing their licenses, the number was whittled down to 2,600 cases. Even that turned out to be a drastic overstatement, as in the end just 85 voters were identified as non-citizens and removed from the rolls.
That same year, the then-director of South Carolina’s DMV used a similar “weak-match” method to claim ineligible individuals voted in previous elections. He claimed that 950 dead people had voted since they died. After a review of the records in question by South Carolina officials, it was determined that no one had cast a ballot from the grave – or had used a dead person’s identity to vote.
After the 2016 election, a weak-match system identified 94,610 New Hampshire voters that were supposedly registered in another state. President Trump claimed he lost the state because “thousands” of people came into the state by bus to vote against him. A follow-up review by the New Hampshire secretary of state ruled out all but 142 of those matches as possibly legitimate cases of double-voting, and only referred 51 of those cases to the state’s attorney general for further investigation