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Attacks on Senate Democrats’ latest attempt to rewrite the nation’s voting laws have grown fierce, and perhaps no other Republican has condemned the Democratic measure quite like U.S. Sen. Ted Cruz, R-Texas.
To Cruz, the For the People Act, or S 1, is "the most radical legislation the Senate has considered" since Cruz entered office in 2013, and it’s "the most dangerous legislation pending before the U.S. Congress," he said during a Tuesday morning meeting of the Senate Rules Committee.
Then, invoking a term many Democrats have used to denounce the slew of voter restriction bills being pushed by GOP-led state legislatures across the nation, Cruz called the For the People Act "Jim Crow 2.0."
"This legislation would register millions of illegal aliens to vote. It is intended to do that," Cruz said. And by allowing "millions of people to vote illegally," his argument continues, it would "dilute the legal votes of American citizens."
"This bill doesn’t protect voting rights, it steals voting rights from the American people," he said.
As it stands now, passage of the For the People Act doesn’t appear likely. The bill’s House version, HR 1, passed nearly along party lines. But it failed to advance in the Senate Rules Committee after a 9-9 deadlock. And if it ever is brought to floor of the split Senate, Democratic Sen. Joe Manchin’s break from his party may sink the bill once and for all. (Manchin instead has chosen to support a more narrow voting rights bill, which he says will have a greater chance of gaining some Republican support.)
The Democratic bill is indeed sweeping. At 791 pages, the bill does everything from prohibiting states’ voter ID laws to breaking the gridlock of the Federal Election Commission by removing a member. But would the bill "register millions of illegal aliens to vote?" And is registering millions of ineligible voters the bill’s intent?
Cruz was not the first person to say this piece of legislation would expand voting access to immigrants who are in the country illegally. In March, as the House deliberated HR 1, former Vice President Mike Pence wrote in an opinion article that the bill would ensure that "millions of illegal immigrants are quickly registered to vote." Similar rhetoric then spread through viral social media posts, which claim that the bill gives immigrants in the country illegally the "right to vote."
But Cruz continued that line of argument Tuesday. According to his spokesperson, Cruz argues that the bill’s automatic voter registration provision "will register ineligible voters, including illegal aliens and noncitizens."
The automatic voter registration provision would expand a practice that is already in place in 19 states (not including Texas) and Washington, D.C. The policy would require state agencies to share information collected on individuals with election officials to help streamline voter registration processes. A person interacting with one government office — like the department of motor vehicles or a public assistance agency — would have their information forwarded to election officials for registration purposes. This would automatically register eligible citizens to vote or update their voter registration information unless they opt out.
The intent of automatic voter registration is to increase voter registration rates and keep voter rolls up to date. During the 2016 election cycle, 33% of all voter registration applications in the U.S. originated at a DMV, according to the U.S. Election Assistance Commission.
The For the People Act states that the purpose of the automatic registration provision is to enable governments "to register all eligible citizens to vote." It also states that state agencies can share voter-registration information of eligible citizens only.
But Cruz’s spokesperson, Steve Guest, said that although the bill "purports only to allow registration for citizens, the bill nowhere requires proof of citizenship as part of automatic registration."
It’s true that the bill doesn’t add a proof-of-citizenship step to the registration process. But there’s a good reason for that, said David Becker, executive director of the Center for Election Innovation and Research. In 2018, a federal judge ruled that a Kansas law requiring people to prove their U.S. citizenship was unconstitutional after the state failed to prove that a substantial number of ineligible people managed to register to vote.
But the absence of that requirement doesn't mean "millions of illegal aliens" will begin registering, experts say. If a state agency doesn’t know a person’s citizenship status when referring their information to election officials, it would direct them to a registration form where they would attest to their citizenship, as required by the National Voter Registration Act. Any voter who falsely attests to citizenship on the registration form would face penalties for perjury which, in Texas, is a class A misdemeanor punishable by fines and up to one year in jail.
Local election agencies also still would be required to determine an applicant’s voting eligibility in the same way they already do, which experts say is effective in filtering out noncitizens.
"We know that the deterrent effect (of perjury penalties) and enforcement of those laws has been highly effective," Becker said. "We do not see any significant number of noncitizens on the lists."
So how does Cruz figure that the bill would lead to "millions of illegal aliens" registering to vote? His office points to "historical evidence of automatic voter registration registering illegal aliens."
Guest cited a 2018 California case when the DMV notified the secretary of state that voter registrations for 23,000 Californians had been handled incorrectly by the automatic voter registration system. Of that total, 1,500 noncitizens were improperly registered to vote, according to ABC News. Officials traced the error back to a programming flaw, then canceled the erroneous registrations and invalidated mail-in ballots sent to people who were mistakenly registered.
Automatic voter registration glitches have occurred in other states as well. In 2017, Pennsylvania officials said they found 544 ballots potentially cast by noncitizens in elections dating back to 2000 — of about 93 million ballots cast. That’s about 1 out of every 172,000 ballots.
"Those are system glitches, technical problems that absolutely should be fixed. Proving citizenship would not fix them. They were problems in how the systems were designed and they were fixed," he said.
When asked how Democrats have demonstrated that the intent of the For the People Act is to "register millions of illegal aliens to vote," Cruz's spokesperson referred to two of the 46 amendments Cruz has introduced. One would require people to prove their citizenship for automatic voter registration. The second would allow for the prosecution of people who are automatically registered but were ineligible.
Cruz’s office argues that Democrats’ lack of support for these amendments proves that their intent behind the bill is to allow noncitizens to vote.
"If Democrats don’t actually intend to register illegal aliens and the bill wouldn’t actually register illegal aliens and noncitizens, then they would have supported Sen. Cruz’s amendments," Guest said. "There are millions of illegal immigrants in America. The intended effect of automatic voter registration is to register millions of illegal aliens to vote and Democrats blocked explicit provisions to verify citizenship and remove legal protections for the inevitably registered illegal aliens."
According to Becker, the lack of support for Cruz’s proof-of-citizenship amendment is due to the unconstitutionality ruling from Kansas.
"It would not be unusual for anyone who understands the law to suggest that they not include something in the bill that could violate the U.S. Constitution," he said.
And the lack of support for Cruz’s amendment that would allow prosecution is due to the fact that automatic voter registration systems do occasionally err — as evidenced by cases in California, Pennsylvania, Illinois and Nevada. And it’s unreasonable to prosecute people whose voter registrations were caught up in system glitches through no fault of their own, Becker said.
During a Senate committee meeting over a Democratic voting rights bill, Cruz said that the bill will "register millions of illegal aliens to vote." He also said that this is the Democrats’ intent behind this bill because Democrats believe these people "are likely to vote for Democrats."
His claim is based on a requirement in the bill that directs states to adopt automatic voter registration systems, which 19 states and Washington D.C. already have. But a section of the law instructs state agencies to share information for voter registration purposes only for citizens. People are also required to attest to their citizenship under penalties of perjury.
The bill also does not change the fact that local election agencies would still be required to vet an applicant’s voting eligibility, as they have done in the past.
Although glitches and malfunctions of automatic registration systems have been recorded, they are rare and easily corrected.
We rate this claim Pants on Fire.
C-Span, Senate Rules Committee Meeting on For the People Act, May 11, 2021
Clerk of the U.S. House of Representatives, Roll Call 62 Bill Number: H. R. 1, March 3, 2021
ABC News, Manchin to support measured voting reform in lieu of sweeping Democratic proposal, May 12, 2021
117th Congress, H.R. 1 bill text
U.S. Election Assistance Commission, EAVS Deep Dive: Registering to Vote, Sept. 20 , 2017
PolitiFact, Pence falsely says if HR 1 passes, millions of people in US illegally will be registered to vote, March 5, 2021
PolitiFact, H.R. 1 does not give immigrants illegally in the country the right to vote, March 31, 2021
Emails with Steve Guest, spokesperson for U.S. Sen. Ted Cruz, May 12, 2021
Interview with David Becker, Executive Director and Founder of the Center for Election Innovation & Research, May 12, 2021
Email with Martina McLennan, spokesperson for U.S. Sen. Jeff Merkley, May 12, 2021
ABC News, 1,500 noncitizens may have been registered to vote in California DMV error, Oct. 9, 2018
Associated Press, Pennsylvania finds 544 possibly illegal ballots since 2000, Oct. 25, 2018
The Hill, Technical glitch results in hundreds of invalid voter registrations in Illinois, Jan. 2, 2020
KUNR, Even As New Voter Count Soars, Nevada’s Automatic Registration System Faces Glitches, Feb. 21, 2020
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