Published May 17, 2024

Federal bill on noncitizen voting could have unique impact for North Dakota

Written by
The Dakotan
| The Dakotan

BY: MARY STEURER (North Dakota Monitor)

A U.S. House bill to require proof of citizenship to vote in federal elections could have unintended consequences for North Dakota, the only state that does not require voter registration.

The proposal — brought forward by House Speaker Mike Johnson on May 8 — said the measure is needed to ensure the integrity of the 2024 election.

“We all know, intuitively, that a lot of illegals are voting in federal elections,” the Louisiana Republican said during a press conference at the U.S. Capitol. “But it’s not been something that is easily provable.”

U.S. Rep. Kelly Armstrong, R-N.D., said he’s working on an amendment to the House bill that would exempt the measure from applying to North Dakota, and that he’s successfully introduced similar amendments to other voting-related bills in the past. 

“Without that amendment, the way I read it … North Dakotans would have to prove citizenship before the primary and before the general election every two years, or they would force us into voter registration,” Armstrong told the North Dakota Monitor.

Armstrong said he supports the premise of the House bill, but that he would vote no if the exemption is not adopted.

The amendment would mirror an exemption already provided to North Dakota under the National Voter Registration Act of 1993, which sought to regulate and streamline how states register voters. Five other states — Wyoming, Wisconsin, Idaho, New Hampshire and Minnesota — are also exempt from the act.

It’s already illegal to vote in federal elections if you’re not a U.S. citizen, and research indicates it’s very rare. A 2017 study by the Brennan Center for Justice at New York University analyzed voting in 42 U.S. jurisdictions in the 2016 election, and found only about 30 incidents of voting by noncitizens out of an estimated total 23.5 million votes.

North Dakota Secretary of State Michael Howe said Thursday that while he was not familiar with the specifics of the House bill, the state already has adequate protections against noncitizens casting votes.

North Dakota most recently updated its voter ID law during the 2023 legislative session with an amendment that closed a loophole allowing noncitizens to vote under certain circumstances.

Before that change, if a voter told an election worker they were a citizen, they would be allowed to vote even if the ID they provided indicated they did not have citizenship, Howe said.

While the law passed overwhelmingly in both the House and Senate, some opponents of the measure testified in committee hearings that it would place an unfair burden on North Dakotans who may have difficulty obtaining the documents they need to prove their citizenship.

Howe said he and other officials in the Secretary of State’s Office have been taking steps to make sure that new citizens are aware of how the 2023 amendment could affect them.

“We’ve been attending naturalization ceremonies, telling new Americans, new citizens, ‘You now have the right to vote, but please, as soon as you can, go update your ID,’” Howe said.

In a U.S. House committee hearing on Thursday morning, representatives and witnesses testifying in support of stricter voting laws argued that states are not adequately equipped to police voting by noncitizens, and that the federal government should do more to support them.

One witness — J. Christian Adams, who leads the Public Interest Legal Foundation — urged Congress to go even farther.

Adams told the committee that lawmakers should “strongly consider ending the exemption” for certain states under the National Voter Registration Act to ensure all states are held accountable for facilitating secure elections.

A proposal similar to the House bill has been introduced in the U.S. Senate. 

Howe said North Dakota is already doing fine on its own.

“If the federal government wants to secure elections, I think that’s great,” Howe said. “But as with most things, it’s best left to the states.”

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