Immigrant Voter Fraud Fears Didn't Materialize

Anti-immigration groups raised fears that illegal immigrants might steal the U.S. elections Tuesday by voting in droves. Those fears never materialized, and most voting experts say they weren't founded on any evidence of widespread voter fraud, especially by immigrants.

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RENEE MONTAGNE, host:

Let's follow up now on some claims made before Tuesday's election. Some conservative groups warned that thousands of illegal immigrants would try to vote. NPR's Pam Fessler asked if illegals really did.

PAM FESSLER: An anti-illegal immigration group called Ban Amnesty Now sent out a blast email last week asking supporters to, quote, "stop illegals from stealing the election." Another group, Americans for Legal Immigration PAC, said Democrats were encouraging illegal immigrants to turn out in droves and that Tea Party and other activists had to be vigilant.

Mr. WILLIAM GHEEN (President, ALIPAC): This was the most error-prone and fraudulent election I've seen in my life.

FESSLER: William Gheen is president of that group, ALIPAC.

Mr. GHEEN: So we are going to call on Congress to launch official investigations into what needs to happen to secure American voting rights from those that would steal it.

FESSLER: But just about every group monitoring the elections says there's little evidence that illegal immigrants voted, certainly not in droves. And when pressed for specific cases to back up his claims, Gheen came up short. He noted reports that non-citizens' names have been found on registration rolls in a number of states.

Mr. GHEEN: And where they're registered, then we expect there to be votes.

FESSLER: But you don't have a specific case, right?

Mr. GHEEN: Well, we know that the Democratic Party machinery and these campaigns that go into minority neighborhoods looking for high-percentage Democratic voters have no way to determine between who is registered legally and illegally.

FESSLER: Then he offered us proof: an Atlanta Constitution article last week that found what appeared to be hundreds of non-citizens on Georgia's registration rolls.

Ms. DEBBIE DOOLEY (State Coordinator, Georgia Tea Party Patriots): I really did not see anything out of the normal.

FESSLER: Debbie Dooley, a state coordinator for the Georgia Tea Party Patriots, which had 100 people out watching the polls this week.

Ms. DOOLEY: There were long lines but it just went pretty smooth.

FESSLER: Dooley says that non-citizen voting isn't that big a concern in Georgia anymore because of a new law requiring voters to show a photo ID, which most illegal immigrants don't have.

Lorraine Minnite of Barnard College is author of a new book, "The Myth of Voter Fraud." She says fears about illegal immigrants voting defy logic.

Ms. LORRAINE MINNITE (Author, "The Myth of Voter Fraud"): People who are here who are undocumented don't tend to go around trying to, you know, bring attention to themselves, especially doing something that is illegal.

FESSLER: She found that there were only 14 federal convictions for voter fraud involving non-citizens from 2002 until 2005, when the Bush administration had an aggressive campaign to go after such crimes. Minnite says often immigrants are confused.

Ms. MINNITE: It was absolutely clear that there were some people who just did not understand that they could not vote.

FESSLER: Liberal voting rights groups say claims of widespread illegal voting are used for political purposes, to help stir up the conservative base. But William Gheen of ALIPAC isn't deterred. Yesterday he asked supporters to collect the names of those who cast ballots in Democratic districts on Tuesday and start checking out their citizenship status.

Pam Fessler, NPR News.

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