US election disinformation targets non-citizen votes | National

Illegal immigration at the U.S. southern border is a major talking point among Republican politicians, but some are taking it a step further by promoting misinformation about noncitizens voting in the presidential election.

With the election potentially decided by several thousand votes in battleground states, social media has been filled with accusations that foreigners are entering the country to swing the election in President Joe Biden’s favor.

AFP has extensively debunked these claims, in both English and Spanish, explaining that non-citizens cannot vote in federal elections – and that safeguards such as double verification prevent them from registering to do so.

But former president and Republican candidate Donald Trump recently shared a video on his Truth Social platform claiming that Democrats are encouraging migrants to come to the country to sway the contest in the Democratic incumbent’s favor.

X owner Elon Musk amplified the clip and collected hundreds of thousands of additional interactions.

Republican lawmaker Marjorie Taylor Greene has amplified the false narrative, warning that Democrats are “going to steal the election with illegal votes.”

“This is why there have been a large number of voter registrations using Social Security numbers in key states. Migrants can get a social security number without citizenship,” she said on April 16 on X, formerly Twitter.

“This is why the Biden administrator is keeping the border open.”

A study by the nonprofit Brennan Center found that votes suspected — but not proven — to have been cast by noncitizens in 2016 represented 0.0001 percent of votes.

Data reported by the Congressional Research Service shows that there were approximately 3.2 million non-immigrants living in the United States in 2019.

The nonpartisan government agency also estimates that there were up to 11.4 million unauthorized individuals and 12.9 million legal permanent residents in the country in 2022.

While it is already illegal for these groups to join the approximately 161 million Americans registered to vote in federal elections, Trump and Republican House Speaker Mike Johnson recently proposed a new law aimed at on non-citizens casting their votes.

“We cannot wait for widespread fraud to occur,” Johnson said in mid-April at a press conference at Trump’s Mar-a-Lago resort in Florida – historically an election swing state.

“Especially when the threat of fraud grows with every illegal immigrant who crosses the border.”

– ‘Exploit fear’ –

Experts say misinformation about migrant voting has increased in part due to a spike in border crossings along the U.S.-Mexico border in recent years.

“The most important change is the intensity of the crisis at the border, and the way it is being used to spread rumors,” said Mert Bayar of the Center for an Informed Public at the University of Washington.

Ethan Porter, an associate professor of media and public affairs at George Washington University, added that some politicians may think they can “exploit fear and anxiety” about illegal immigration to mobilize their supporters.

“Election turnout is difficult, and stoking such fears is a way to make it easier,” he said.

False claims about non-citizens influencing the outcome of US elections have surfaced before.

Trump partly blamed illegal immigrants for his vote loss to Hillary Clinton in 2016. A committee he set up to investigate the issue was later disbanded without finding any cases of non-citizens casting ballots.

What’s different this cycle, according to Emerson Brooking of the Atlantic Council’s Digital Forensic Research Lab, is that “the disinformation apparatus has become more sophisticated,” making it easier for people to decontextualize data and spread persuasive, elaborate falsehoods .

– Preparing for fraud –

Stories about noncitizen voting will set the stage for future allegations of fraud, analysts say.

“Pushing these claims amounts to a ‘tails I win, heads you lose’ approach to elections,” Porter said. “Either my side wins despite the influence of illegal voting, or my side has lost because of illegal voting.”

However, it could also have unintended consequences for Republicans.

“Rumors about election fraud and conspiracy theories can actually have a demobilizing effect on people who believe in them, because they do not trust the system and therefore do not want to participate,” Bayar said.

Several experts told AFP that the real threat of disinformation about voter fraud is lowering confidence in the US electoral system.

Brooking said such stories are “opportunistic,” adding that if Trump wins in a landslide in November, anyone who makes the claims will “forget them overnight.”

With about six months until Election Day, he said “we are only seeing the first drops” of disinformation, warning that it will soon “become a tidal wave.”