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Former President Donald Trump visits with campaign volunteers at the Grimes Community Complex Park, June 1, 2023, in Des Moines, Iowa. (AP) Former President Donald Trump visits with campaign volunteers at the Grimes Community Complex Park, June 1, 2023, in Des Moines, Iowa. (AP)

Former President Donald Trump visits with campaign volunteers at the Grimes Community Complex Park, June 1, 2023, in Des Moines, Iowa. (AP)

Amy Sherman
By Amy Sherman January 12, 2024

Trump's claim that millions of immigrants are signing up to vote illegally is Pants on Fire!

If Your Time is short

  • Citizenship is a requirement to vote in federal elections. The process for immigrants to become citizens takes years.

  • Cases of noncitizens voting are statistically rare. Some noncitizens accidentally end up on voter rolls when applying for driver’s licenses. States and counties have safeguards to check for voter eligibility.

  • Our mission: Help you be an informed participant in democracy. Learn more.

Former President Donald Trump’s final push before the Iowa caucuses came with warnings about an outrageous Democratic scheme to register immigrants in the country illegally to vote.

"That’s why they are allowing these people to come in — people that don’t speak our language — they are signing them up to vote," Trump said Jan. 5 in Sioux Center, Iowa. "And I believe that’s why you are having millions of people pour into our country and it could very well affect the next election. That’s why they are doing it." 

Trump didn’t directly identify who "they" are but in his preceding comments, he talked about people who "cheat on an election" — language he often uses to talk about Democrats.

Trump’s statements in majority-white Iowa, which holds its caucuses Jan. 15, fit in with conspiracy theories about "white replacement" or the "great replacement," which claim white people of European descent are deliberately being replaced with nonwhite people.

Trump has said false claims about immigrants voting in 2014,  in 2016 as a presidential candidate, and again in 2020 after his reelection loss.

There is nothing new about this claim in 2024. Our search for evidence turned up sporadic cases of noncitizens registering to vote or casting ballots. But we found no effort by the left to register people in the country illegally.

"There is zero evidence that institutionally the Democratic Party has been doing this," said Mike Madrid, a longtime Republican strategist in California who produces the Latino Vote podcast with Chuck Rocha, a Democratic political consultant. We asked Trump’s campaign for evidence and received no a reply.

Voting by immigrants in U.S. illegally is rare

Federal law requires citizenship to vote in national elections, and would-be voters sign a form attesting under penalty of perjury that they are citizens when they register to vote. States can check databases to verify voters’ citizenship. 

Fraudulent voter registration or voting by noncitizens is often a result of misunderstandings or errors. For example, some noncitizens accidentally register to vote when applying for a driver’s license. But the number of people who fall into this category is "minuscule," Rutgers University political science professor Lorraine Minnite previously told us

In Colorado, ahead of the 2022 midterm election, the secretary of state’s office mistakenly sent postcards to about 30,000 noncitizens who had driver’s licenses encouraging them to register to vote. The office sent a second postcard notifying these noncitizens about the error and worked with county clerks to ensure the ineligible voters did not register.

In 2020, federal prosecutors charged 19 people in North Carolina with voter fraud after they cast ballots mostly in the 2016 election. Sixteen people pleaded guilty, mostly to misdemeanors related to voting as a noncitizen. Three cases were dismissed. 

That was a big case, but keep in mind that more than 4.5 million people in North Carolina voted in the 2016 presidential election.

An investigation in Georgia found 1,634 noncitizens who attempted to register to vote over 25 years, Secretary of State Brad Raffensperger said in 2022. Ultimately, no one was registered. 

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"The system worked to prevent illegal voting," said John Melvin, chief assistant district attorney in Gwinnett County, home to part of Atlanta.

Noncitizens who vote could face serious consequences

Voting by noncitizens carries high risks that include deportation or incarceration.

Interacting with the government, including trying to vote, is something the undocumented population tries to avoid, said Madrid, the Republican strategist. "They are not going to go register to vote and expose themselves."

The penalties are also high for a political party or volunteer who would try to sign up an ineligible voter.

"There are so many millions of citizens of eligible voting age, Latinos, that are not registered," Madrid said. It makes more sense to focus on them, he said.

Republicans sometimes object to some communities allowing certain noncitizens to vote in local elections. Takoma Park, Maryland, has allowed it since 1993. But, again, noncitizens aren't allowed to vote in presidential races.

"There is no indication that noncitizen voting in those localities has caused noncitizen voting in state or federal elections," said Wendy R. Weiser, a lawyer at the Brennan Center for Justice at the New York University School of Law.

It’s a long path for immigrants to gain the right to vote

The process of becoming a citizen — and the right to vote that comes with it — can take a decade or longer.

Border officials have encountered migrants nationwide 8.1 million times under President Joe Biden’s administration, as of November 2023. (If one person tries to enter the country three times and is stopped each time by border officials, that equals three encounters.) Also, not everyone encountered is let into the U.S. About 3.6 million encounters ended in people being deported from the country under Biden, DHS data shows.

"Even if many of these people found a path to legal status via asylum or other means, it would be many, many years before they would become eligible to vote given both the huge backlogs in adjudicating cases in immigration court and the fact that people spend years on a green card before being eligible for citizenship," Michelle Mittelstadt, a Migration Policy Institute spokesperson, previously told PolitiFact.

Our ruling

Trump said Democrats are allowing illegal immigrants "to come in — people that don’t speak our language — they are signing them up to vote."

Trump provided no evidence for this scheme. Only U.S. citizens can vote in federal elections, and proven incidents of noncitizens casting ballots are rare. Even immigrants who arrive now and apply for citizenship won’t be able to vote for more than a decade because of the lengthy citizenship process. 

We rate this statement Pants on Fire!

Staff Writer Maria Ramirez Uribe contributed to this fact-check.

Our Sources

C-SPAN, Donald Trump in Sioux Center, Iowa, Jan. 5, 2024

Customs and Border Protection, Southwest Land Border Encounters, 2022

Washington Post, Opinion: Latinos are not a lock for Democrats. Here’s why. Aug. 5, 2021

Pew Research Center, Behind Biden’s 2020 Victory, June 30, 2021

Pew Research Center, The changing racial and ethnic composition of the U.S. electorate, Sept. 23, 2020

Pew Research Center, Most Cuban American voters identify as Republican in 2020, Oct. 2, 2020

Gabriel Sanchez for Brookings, Immigration and the Latino vote: A golden opportunity for Democrats in 2022, June 17, 2021

WOSU, Immigration, false election claims get the spotlight in GOP U.S. Senate debate, March 29, 2022

Apple Podcasts, Latino Vote Podcast, 2022

Migration Policy Institute, Controversial U.S. Title 42 Expulsions Policy Is Coming to an End, Bringing New Border Challenges, March 31, 2022

Ohio Latino Affairs Commission, 2020 Election Participation in Ohio: A Focus on Hispanic/Latino Voters, 2021

U.S. Middle District U.S. Attorneys Office, Federal Authorities Charge Nineteen with Voter Fraud, Sept. 2, 2020

AP, Trump suggests unauthorized migrants will vote. The idea stirs his base, but ignores reality, Jan. 9, 2024

Georgia Secretary of State Brad Raffensperger, Secretary Raffensperger Refers 1,600 Noncitizen Registrants to Local DAs, GBI, State Election Board, April 11, 2022

Colorado Public radio, Colorado accidentally sent voter registration notices to 30,000 residents who are not citizens, Oct. 7, 2022

Wall Street Apes, X post, Jan. 8, 2024

Donald Trump, X post, Oct. 31, 2014

City of Takoma Park, Maryland, 30 years of noncitizen voting in Takoma Park, Oct. 6, 2023

PolitiFact, Ramaswamy’s Pants on Fire claim that the Democratic platform includes the ‘great replacement theory’ Dec. 13, 2023

PolitiFact, JD Vance’s ad about ‘open border’ and immigrant voters is wrong, April 8, 2022

PolitiFact, "Pence falsely says if HR 1 passes, millions of people in US illegally will be registered to vote," March 5, 2021

PolitiFact, "Do states verify citizenship of voters in federal elections?" Dec. 7, 2020

PolitiFact, "Fact-checking Trump's claim on cost of illegal immigration, number of immigrants here illegally," Jan. 28, 2019

PolitiFact, "No evidence ‘many’ illegal immigrants voted in midterm elections, as Lou Dobbs said," Nov. 16, 2018

PolitiFact, "Donald Trump Jr. tweets misleading 2012 headline about Florida noncitizen voters," Nov. 13, 2018

PolitiFact, "Donald Trump says there's 'substantial evidence of voter fraud.' There isn't," Jan. 5, 2018

PolitiFact, "Following Trump voter fraud allegations, claim that 5.7 million noncitizens voted is wrong," June 22, 2017

PolitiFact, "Fact-check: Did 3 million undocumented immigrants vote in this year's election?" Nov. 18, 2016

PolitiFact, "Donald Trump's Pants on Fire claim that millions of illegal votes cost him popular vote victory," Nov. 18, 2016

PolitiFact, "Trump wrongfully says immigrants voting illegally won North Carolina for Obama in 2008," Oct. 19, 2016

PolitiFact, "Donald Trump repeats Pants on Fire claim about '30 million' illegal immigrants," Sept. 1, 2016

Telephone interview, Mike Madrid, Republican strategist, April 5, 2022 and Jan. 8, 2024

Telephone interview, Chuck Rocha, Democrat strategist, April 5, 2022

Telephone interview, Ron Hayduk, San Francisco State University professor, April 5, 2022

Email interview,  Michelle Mittelstadt, spokesperson for the Migration Policy Institute, April 5, 2022 and Jan. 8, 2024

Email interview, Lorraine Minnite, Rutgers University associate professor of public policy, April 6, 2022 and Jan. 8, 2024

Email interview, Sylvia Albert, Common Cause, Democracy and Representation Policy Counsel, Jan. 8, 2024

Email interview, John Melvin, Chief Assistant District Attorney, Gwinnett Judicial Circuit, Jan. 10, 2024

Email interview, Wendy R. Weiser, Vice President for Democracy, Brennan Center for Justice at NYU School of Law, Jan. 10, 2024

Email interview, Jack Todd, Colorado Secretary of State spokesperson, Jan. 10, 2024

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