The Corner

Could Non-Citizen Voting Have Tipped the Virginia Senate Race?

On October 24, two political scientists from Old Dominion University — Jesse Richman and David Earnest — published an article in the Washington Post summarizing their research on voting by non-citizens, which is not legal. (The voting, that is; as far as I know the research is perfectly legal.) Click here for their more technical follow-up. Richman and Earnest cite data from the Cooperative Congressional Election Study (CCES) showing that 6.4 percent of non-citizens stated that they voted in the 2008 election and 2.2 percent voted in 2010. Given that 80 percent of non-citizens in the survey stated that they voted for President Obama, Richman and Earnest conclude that in certain very tight races — they cite the 2008 Minnesota Senate election — non-citizen voting could tip the balance.

By coincidence, the Virginia Senate race between Democrat Mark Warner and Republican Ed Gillespie has turned out to be extremely close. At the time I write this, with 99.2 percent of precincts reporting (which I believe is around 95 percent of the total vote), Warner leads Gillespie by around 12,000 votes out of more than 2 million cast.

This provides a potential test case for Richman and Earnest’s theory — though, to be clear, the results could vary significantly with small changes in assumptions. To start, in 2008 around 6 percent of Virginia’s population was reported to be non-citizens. If Virginia non-citizens turned out to vote at the same 2.2 percent rate as in the 2010 off-year election, that would make for 10,904 non-citizen voters, based on the current Virginia population of 8.26 million. If we assume that 80 percent voted Democratic and 20 percent Republican, that would produce a net gain in Democratic votes of 6,542, equal to about half the current gap between the candidates.

But as Richman and Earnest note, their figures are based on a national sample and voting behavior could differ between states. In some states non-citizens might be more or less likely to vote, and more or less likely to voter for either party, than in others. (Exit polls for the Virginia race didn’t have a large enough sample to break down Hispanic voters by party.) The percentage of non-citizen residents may differ from the percentage of non-citizens of voting age, if non-citizens are younger on average.

My best guess is that non-citizen voting wouldn’t have been enough to shift the results of the Virginia Senate race, but that’s only a guess. If the Gillespie campaign team was feeling dedicated, it might look at an alternative approach also recently in the news in Maryland: comparing voter rolls to jury rolls, where non-citizens have an incentive to declare their status in order to avoid jury duty. I have no idea what that would show. What’s important is people trying to address these issues in a rigorous way. 

— Andrew G. Biggs is a resident scholar at the American Enterprise Institute.

Most Popular


In Defense of Coleman Hughes

Picture the scene: A young man walks into a congressional hearing to offer witness testimony. His grandfather was barbarically brutalized by people who are now long dead. The nation in which he resides built its wealth of his grandfather’s brutalization. The question: Should his fellow citizens pay the young ... Read More
Film & TV

Toy Story 4: A National Anthem

The Toy Story franchise is the closest thing we have to an undisputed national anthem, a popular belief that celebrates what we think we all stand for — cooperation, ingenuity, and simple values, such as perpetual hope. This fact of our infantile, desensitized culture became apparent back in 2010 when I took a ... Read More
Film & TV

Fosse/Verdon and the Dismal #MeToo Obsession

In the final episode of Fosse/Verdon, one of the two titular characters, Bob Fosse, is shooting one of the greatest films of all time. The other, Gwen Verdon, is having a quarrel with her unspeakably dull boyfriend about whether he approves of her performing in a road-show production of a Broadway musical. These ... Read More

Joe and the Segs

Joe Biden has stepped in it, good and deep. Biden, if he has any hope of ever being elected president, will be dependent on residual goodwill among African Americans from his time as Barack Obama’s loyal and deferential vice president — so deferential, in fact, that he stood aside for Herself in 2016 even ... Read More
Politics & Policy

The Madcap Caution of Donald Trump

The worry last week was that the Trump administration was ginning up fake intelligence about Iran blowing up oil tankers in the Strait of Hormuz to justify a war against Iran. Then, this week, President Donald Trump said the Iranian attacks weren’t a big deal. The episode is another indication of the ... Read More
Politics & Policy

Elizabeth Warren’s Terrible Plans

Elizabeth Warren is being lauded as the serious candidate in the race. Her motto, “I have a plan for that,” is accepted as proof that she is thoughtful and conscientious. That’s too generous. One should expect a grown-up to evaluate costs and benefits, to understand tradeoffs, and to pay for what they ... Read More

College Leaders Should Learn from Oberlin

Thanks to their social-justice warrior mindset, the leaders of Oberlin College have caused an Ohio jury to hit it with $44 million in compensatory and punitive damages in a case where the school couldn't resist the urge to side with its “woke” students against a local business. College leaders should learn ... Read More