Mike Johnson’s false claim about noncitizens registering to vote at DMV, ‘welfare’ offices

U.S. House Speaker Mike Johnson says that although noncitizen voting is banned, the government has not established sufficient safeguards.
U.S. House Speaker Mike Johnson says that although noncitizen voting is banned, the government has not established sufficient safeguards.
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House Speaker Mike Johnson

Statement: “The millions (of immigrants) that have been paroled can simply go to their local welfare office or the DMV and register to vote.”

U.S. House Speaker Mike Johnson is promoting a bill he says will ensure that only U.S. citizens can vote. He says that although the practice is already banned, the government has not established safeguards to prevent it from happening.

Noncitizen voting poses a "clear and present danger to the integrity of our election system," Johnson said May 8 during a press conference as he advocated for the "Safeguard American Voter Eligibility Act."

Johnson, R-La., referred to voter registration forms that ask applicants to check a box noting that they are U.S. citizens.

"If a nefarious actor wants to intervene in our elections, all they have to do is check a box on a form and sign their name," Johnson said. "That's it. That's all that's required. And there's a very small chance that illegal would get caught."

President Joe Biden has "welcomed millions and millions of illegal aliens" and "the millions that have been paroled can simply go to their local welfare office or the DMV and register to vote," Johnson said.

Are millions of people who came in under humanitarian parole able to register to vote?

The Biden administration has admitted about 1 million people into the U.S. through different humanitarian parole programs that grant people temporary legal permission to live and work in the United States. But the people participating in these programs are not U.S. citizens, and it would be a crime for them to register to vote in federal elections.

In 1996, Congress banned noncitizen voting in federal elections as part of a broader toughening of penalties for people in the country illegally. States banned it decades earlier. "Noncitizens" includes people legally and illegally in the U.S.

Safeguards already exist to prevent noncitizen voting. Think tanks, academics, courts and journalists have analyzed claims about noncitizen voting for years and have found only sporadic cases that wouldn’t swing federal elections.

Johnson did not say how many noncitizens had illegally voted. "We all know, intuitively, that a lot of illegals are voting in federal elections. But it’s not been something that is easily provable," Johnson said at the press conference. "We don’t have that number."The Republican bill would require proof of citizenship to register to vote. However, in 2013, the U.S. Supreme Court ruled in an Arizona case that states must permit people to register for federal elections using a federal form that does not require documentary proof of citizenship. States may have their own form, but they must also accept the federal form.

People’s eligibility for public benefits or driver’s licenses doesn’t mean they’re allowed to register to vote

Humanitarian parole beneficiaries qualify for certain federal benefits, such as the Temporary Assistance for Needy Families, Medicaid and Medicare. But to qualify for the benefits, many need to have lived in the U.S. with parole or another qualifying status for at least five years. Once they’re in the U.S., parole program participants must apply for a legal status, such as asylum.

Generally, people in humanitarian parole programs qualify for driver’s licenses, though rules vary by state.

Still, only U.S. citizens may register to vote.

A Johnson spokesperson pointed us to a news article about a letter a South Carolina state representative sent the South Carolina Law Enforcement Division requesting an investigation after a refugee received voter registration forms at the South Carolina Medicaid Office.

But receiving a voter registration form does not mean someone is registered to vote, John Michael Catalano, the South Carolina State Election Commission’s public information officer, told PolitiFact. The commission told PolitiFact it found no incidents in which non-U.S. citizens with state IDs or driver’s licenses had voted.

A South Carolina Department of Health and Human Services spokesperson said even though the agency provides voter registration forms, the State Election Commission reviews them.

The news article mentioned the National Voter Registration Act of 1993, which says that any office providing public assistance must offer voter registration. However, the law also says voter registration applications must specify that only citizens can register and applicants must affirm that they are citizens under penalty of perjury.

"This affirmation is a big deal — not just ‘checking a box’ like Speaker Johnson suggested," said Sean Morales-Doyle, director of the Brennan Center Voting Rights Program at the New York University School of Law. "Making a false claim of citizenship on a voter registration form is a federal criminal offense that carries steep penalties, including deportation."

Fraudulent voter registration 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.

Nationwide, from 2020 to 2022 about 55% of voter registrations forms were filled out at motor vehicle departments, Election Assistance Commission data shows. About 1.4% of voter registration applications came from public assistance offices. The other registrations were largely submitted online, via mail or in person.

What some states do to verify voting eligibility

The federal database Systematic Alien Verification for Entitlements, or SAVE, lets states check someone’s immigration or citizenship status. But only a few use it to check for voter registration purposes.

Georgia found that 1,634 noncitizens tried to register to vote over 25 years. There were about 7 million on the voter rolls in 2022 when the state released this data. None of the 1,634 was registered.

States often use driver’s license records to vet eligibility, but this method isn’t foolproof.

People illegally in the country can get driver’s licenses in some states. Also, noncitizens with driver’s licenses might later become naturalized citizens.

PolitiFact's ruling

Johnson said, "The millions (of immigrants) that have been paroled can simply go to their local welfare office or the DMV and register to vote."

About 1 million people have entered the U.S. during the Biden administration through humanitarian parole programs. Some of them can qualify for driver’s licenses and public benefits. And motor vehicle departments and public benefit offices must provide people with voter registration forms under a federal law. But it is illegal for people under humanitarian parole to register to vote because they are not U.S. citizens.

If a noncitizen granted parole submits a voter registration application, election officials would vet it; just submitting a form doesn’t automatically register a person to vote. Noncitizen voting is rare, and Johnson provided no data to prove it’s a widespread problem.

We rate this statement False.

Our sources

This article originally appeared on Austin American-Statesman: Mike Johnson falsely claims humanitarian parolees can register to vote