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Instagram posts – Instagram post wrongly says House Democrats voted to support noncitizen voting

An Instagram post distorts House legislation to suggest that Democrats want to allow immigrants who are not American citizens to vote.

“Breaking: Judiciary Democrats just voted to support non-citizens voting in our elections,” stated a Sept. 21 Instagram post which is a screenshot of a House Judiciary GOP tweet. “There is no hiding it. Democrats WANT non-citizens voting in our elections.”

Other posts on Facebook make similar claims.

The post was flagged as part of Facebook’s efforts to combat false news and misinformation on its News Feed. (Read more about our partnership with Facebook.) 

The Instagram post pertains to a bill a Democrat filed to provide ballots in languages other than English. The tweet included a photo of a page of an amendment to the bill that said two things:

  • That the bill can’t be construed to allow noncitizens to vote
  • That the bill can’t be construed to encourage or require a state and “political subdivision” to allow noncitizens to vote in state or local elections.

Noncitizens are people who are not U.S. citizens; they can include people who are in the country legally under visas and people who are here illegally.

The Democrat’s bill doesn’t say noncitizens should be able to vote. And nothing in the bill would change that existing law already bans “voting by aliens” in federal elections. (Under immigration law, an “alien” is a noncitizen.) In a federal election, people vote for president, vice president, and for candidates to the U.S. Senate and U.S. House of Representatives.

Federal law says noncitizens can vote in nonfederal elections if a state law or local ordinance allows them to do so; this would include city council or school board elections. About 15 cities allow some noncitizens to cast ballots in local races, although a measure in the largest of those cities —  New York City —  was recently struck down by a judge.

Proposal to make election materials available in multiple languages

The Instagram post refers to H.R. 8770, “Expanding the Voluntary Opportunities for Translations in Elections Act,” or in shorthand, Expanding the Vote. It was proposed by Rep. Nikema Williams, D-Ga.

The bill intends to make it easier for elections officials to provide ballots and other election materials to voters who are not proficient in English. The bill cites the Voting Rights Act of 1965, which says that states and jurisdictions shall not deny “the right of any citizen of the United States to vote on account of race or color.”

Congress voted in 1975 to provide ballots and election materials in languages of minority groups, including those that speak Spanish and Asian, American Indian andAlaska Native languages.

That’s why California, Florida and Texas are required to offer ballots in Spanish, and why some counties in multiple states have ballots in Chinese and Vietnamese.

Section 203 of the Voting Rights Act says that language requirement kicks in when there are 10,000 people, or more than 5% of the voting-age citizens, who have low literacy rates and do not speak English very well.

Williams’ bill aims to strengthen the language provision by directing the U.S. attorney general to alert jurisdictions when they approach the triggering threshold. The bill would provide grants to jurisdictions that want to provide voting materials in other languages even if they don’t yet meet that threshold.

Republican amendment raised topic of noncitizen voters

The Instagram post relates to Republican criticism of the bill during a Sept. 21 House Judiciary committee hearing. Williams’ bill so far has been debated only within the committee. It has not been scheduled for a vote by all House members and there is no Senate counterpart.

U.S. Rep. Tom McClintock, R-Calif., proposed an amendment saying nothing in the bill “may be construed to permit any noncitizen to vote in a federal election.” It also said that the bill can’t be construed to encourage or require a state or locality to allow noncitizens to vote.

“This amendment just makes clear that this bill does not intend to permit or encourage noncitizens to vote,” McClintock said. He raised as an example the federal charges against 19 people accused of voting illegally in North Carolina during the 2016 presidential election.

PolitiFact has found anecdotal evidence of noncitizens on the voter rolls, but the incidents are rare and their numbers would not tilt a statewide election’s outcome. Noncitizens who illegally vote face high risks: They could be deported or incarcerated; if convicted, they could undermine naturalization applications.

During the hearing, several Democrats told McClintock that existing law already bars noncitizens from voting in federal elections. They emphasized that the proposed changes in the Democratic bill were about making electoral participation easier for people who are U.S. citizens and eligible to vote.

“Access to the ballot is an essential part of being an American citizen but there are many barriers for voters who do not speak English as their first language,” said U.S. Rep. Deborah Ross, D-N.C.

All of the votes in favor of McClintock’s amendment were Republicans; Democrats opposed the measure. 

“This reads like an amendment that wouldn’t change law but is meant for political messaging purposes,” said Joshua C. Huder, who teaches classes on American government and Congress at Georgetown University. “This happens pretty regularly in committee. On a partisan committee like Judiciary, it’s not very surprising as both parties frequently engage in such tactics.”

Hiroshi Motomura, a University of California, Los Angeles law professor and expert on immigration and citizenship, said it’s wrong to say that by voting against this amendment Democrats were voting in favor of noncitizen voting. In effect, noncitizens’ voting in nonfederal elections remains a local and state decision.

“Noncitizen eligibility to vote in state and local elections has always been a matter of state and local law,” Motomura said. 

Our ruling

An Instagram post said “Breaking: Judiciary Democrats just voted to support non-citizens voting in our elections.”

Democrats proposed a bill to make it easier for voters who  are not proficient in English to get ballots in their native language.

A Republican amendment said the bill should not be construed to mean noncitizens could vote. But the bill never said noncitizens could vote, nor did it change existing law that says noncitizens can’t vote in federal elections. 

It’s up to states and local municipalities to decide whether noncitizens can vote in state and local elections. Democrats’ vote against the amendment didn’t change that, either.

We rate this statement False.

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Source: PolitiFact.