Did U.S. House Democrats Pass a Bill to Allow Immigrants to Vote?

A major piece of voting-related legislation became the subject of confused, misleading scrutiny in March 2019.

  • Published 12 March 2019

Claim

In passing H.R. 1 in March 2019, House Democrats voted in favor of allowing non-citizens to vote.

Rating

Origin

Misinformation and misapprehension surrounded two U.S. Congressional votes related to voting rights and immigration in March 2019.

On 8 March, Facebook users began widely sharing a post by Brad Parker, which claimed: “HR 1 passed. Allowing illegal immigrants (foreigners) to vote. No country allows that:

Other Facebook users posted slight variations on the same message, with memes specifying that “227 of the 233 Democrats in the House voted to allow illegals to vote in our elections” or “The House has voted 228-197 in favor of allowing illegals to vote. Still needs to pass the Senate”:

Around the same time, right-leaning websites published articles that reported Democrats in the U.S. House of Representatives had ‘voted in favor of illegal immigrant voting,’ as both the Washington Times and the Daily Wire headlines read.

The Washington Times wrote:

House Democrats voted to defend localities that allow illegal immigrants to vote in their elections, turning back a GOP attempt to discourage the practice. The vote marks a stunning reversal from just six months ago, when the chamber — then under GOP control — voted to decry illegal immigrant voting …

The 228-197 vote came as part of a broader debate on Democrats’ major legislative priority this year, HR 1, the “For the People Act,” which includes historic expansions of voter registration and access, as well as a major rewrite of campaign finance laws. The measure would have had no practical effect even if it had passed. Illegal immigrants — and indeed noncitizens as a whole — are not legally able to participate in federal elections.

In reality, the House bill known as H.R. 1 would not legally allow non-citizens to vote in the United States. The legislation included a raft of measures intended to prevent foreign interference in elections, reform campaign finance and enhance the protection of voting rights, among other measures. So it is false to claim that the Democrat House majority, in passing H.R. 1, had voted in favor of electoral rights for immigrants, whether documented or undocumented.

The vote described by the Washington Times was actually on a motion associated with H.R. 1, not a vote on the full bill itself, known as the “For the People Act.” What follows is a discussion of that motion.

Crenshaw’s Motion

When U.S. representatives and senators debate legislation, they often cast procedural votes along the way as part of that process — passing or rejecting amendments to the legislation, voting to temporarily suspend debate, and so on.

In this case, shortly before H.R. 1 was to be put to a final vote on 8 March, Rep. Dan Crenshaw, a Republican from Texas, put forward a “motion to recommit,” a type of measure that typically allows the minority party in the House a final opportunity to debate or amend the legislation.

Crenshaw proposed sending the bill back to the House Judiciary Committee and adding a fourth “division” to it, one that articulated certain principles about the importance of voting rights and the integrity of elections, but also targeted the city of San Francisco’s forthcoming practice of allowing certain non-citizens to vote in school board elections:

Congress finds as follows:
(1) Voting is fundamental to a functioning democracy.
(2) The Constitution prohibits discrimination in voting based on race, sex, poll taxes, and age.
(3) It is of paramount importance that the United States maintains the legitimacy of its elections and protects them from interference, including from foreign threats and illegal voting.
(4) The city of San Francisco, California, is allowing non-citizens, including illegal immigrants, to register to vote in school board elections.
(5) Federal law prohibits non-citizens from voting in elections for Federal office.

… It is the sense of Congress that allowing illegal immigrants the right to vote devalues the franchise and diminishes the voting power of United States citizens.

Crenshaw’s motion to recommit was put to a vote, and the House rejected it by 228 votes to 197, with 227 Democrats and one Republican voting against, and 191 Republicans and six Democrats voting for it.

That vote was the basis of the Washington Times and Daily Wire claims that Democrats in the House had ‘voted in favor of illegal immigrant voting.’ However, that was a misleading and disingenuous description of the vote.

First, on a strictly formal basis, 227 Democrats did not vote in favor of voting rights for non-citizens. They voted to oppose Crenshaw’s motion.

Moreover, since Crenshaw’s motion contained several provisions and statements other than the assertion that “Federal law prohibits non-citizens from voting in elections for federal office,” it is therefore by definition selective and misleading to cherry-pick just one possible motivation for opposing it.

Indeed, Democrat members of the House explained their opposition to Crenshaw’s motion during a brief debate. They characterized it as a purposeless diversion and “political stunt,” accurately pointing out that the larger bill itself already reaffirmed the fact that only U.S. citizens can vote in federal elections. Rep. Zoe Lofgren of California said:

“H.R. 1 already prevents noncitizens from voting in Federal elections, whether they are here lawfully or undocumented. In fact, the motion to recommit notices that. [The motion says] ‘Federal law prohibits noncitizens from voting in Federal elections.’ H.R. 1 utilizes the authority in Article I, Section 4 [of the U.S. Constitution] to extend in Federal elections the opportunity for every American to vote. This motion to recommit is an effort to divert us from the mission that we are on to expand voting rights to every American citizen in Federal elections. I urge its defeat.”

Similarly, Rep. Max Rose, a Democrat from New York, said of Crenshaw’s motion: “This is a political stunt meant to divide us, meant to sow hatred. It is a game, nothing less. Nothing less. This right here is why the American people hate politics.”

Thus it is disingenuous and misleading to claim that Democrats opposed the motion in order to express support for non-citizen voting rights, when none of them cited that as a motivation, and those who did speak offered other explanations, including the fact that H.R. 1 itself had already reaffirmed the fact that only U.S. citizens can vote in federal elections.

The bill ultimately passed in the Democrat-controlled House of Representatives along party lines, 234-193. But its fate was unclear as of 12 March 2019. Sen. Majority Leader Mitch McConnell of Kentucky vowed that Republicans in that chamber would not allow the legislation to come to a vote there, but Democrat Sen. Tom Udall of New Mexico said he would introduce a Senate version of H.R. 1.

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