How Illegal Immigrants Give Democrats the Edge in Close Elections

If the criteria of citizen-only population is used from the last census, these changes would cost Democrats four electoral votes as well as possibly four U.S. House seats. As Steinhorn points out “U.S. elections have been decided by far narrower margins. One electoral vote decided the 1876 presidential election. A swing of three electoral votes in 2000 would have elected Al Gore… Though they can’t cast an actual ballot, we effectively allow noncitizens to have an indirect, and possibly decisive, say in choosing the President.” 


By Jay O’Callaghan | November 10, 2015

A recent Politico analysis revealed that an estimated 11-12 million illegal immigrants could give Democrats victory in 2016 through their concentration in big electoral vote states like Calfornia and New York. The 538 electoral college votes that determines a presidential election are mainly based on the number of U.S. House seats allocated from each state’s total population in the last census.  Total population is presently defined to include illegal immigrants and other non-citizen immigrants. This is in part due to how the courts have defined the “whole number of persons in each state” according to the 14th amendment, a definition which is being challenged indirectly in an upcoming Supreme Court case, Evenwel v. Abbott.

Politico, in an article entitled: Illegal Immigrants Could Elect Hillary Clinton, reported that American University scholar Leonard Steinhorn projected that Democrats would lose four electoral votes if non-citizens are not counted as part of a state’s population. Using citizen-only population, Steinhorn shows that California would lose five electoral votes, with New York and Washington each losing one electoral vote. “These three states, which have voted overwhelming for Democrats over the last six presidential elections, would lose seven electoral votes.”  GOP stronghold Texas would also lose two and narrowly Democrat Florida one for a net loss of four for the Democrats in these five states with a higher than average non-citizen population.

Steinhorn also shows that using citizen-only population data “the following ten states, the bulk of which lean Republican, would likely gain one House seat and thus one additional electoral vote: Iowa, Indiana, Louisiana, Michigan, Missouri, Montana, North Carolina, Ohio, Oklahoma and Pennsylvania… Accordingly, for analytic purposes, three of the states that would gain electoral votes are Democratic. The remaining seven are fairly put in the GOP column for a net gain of four.”

This analysis concludes that altogether if citizen-only population is used these changes would cost Democrats  four electoral votes as well as possibly four U.S. House seats. As Steinhorn points out “U.S. elections have been decided by far narrower margins. One electoral vote decided the 1876 presidential election. A swing of three electoral votes in 2000 would have elected Al Gore… Though they can’t cast an actual ballot, we effectively allow noncitizens to have an indirect, and possibly decisive, say in choosing the President.”

In Evenwel v. Abbott, UC Riverside Sociology Professor Swanson and other plaintiffs question whether the “one person, one-vote” principle of the Fourteenth Amendment “creates a judicially enforceable right ensuring that the districting process does not deny voters an equal vote.”

Swanson points out that “the issue in this case stems from an earlier decision made by the U.S. Supreme Court that stayted ‘one person, one vote’ must be used for purposes of redistricting. However, the court never issued an opinion in regard to how ‘one person’ should be measured.”

As a result of the decision, different jurisdictions used different definitions of “one person” for purposes of redistricting. According to Swanson, “some states used estimates of the total population (all ages, citizen and non-citizen), others used voting age population (all citizens and non-citizens, 18 years and over), and still others used citizens of voting age (citizens aged 18 and over). Different definitions led to different redistricting plans.”

Senior Legal Fellow at the Heritage Foundation Hans A. von Spakovsky states “that this case may wind up being the most important voting case in sixty years. Its political ramifications could rival those of Reynolds v. Sims, the 1964 case that established the principle of “one person, one vote” under the Equal Protection Clause of the Fourteenth Amendment.”

The Supreme Court is expected to hear arguments in this key court case in early December. A decision in favor of the plaintiffs may lead to much more litigation which could change the definition of population for reapportionment of U.S. House seats by the 2020 census and reduce the impact of illegal immigrants on the electoral college.


Jay O’Callaghan has worked extensively with issues involving the U.S. Census Bureau including serving as a professional staff member for the House Government Reform Census Subcommittee, as a senior legislative analyst for the Florida House of Representatives Redistricting Committee and for two U.S. House members. He is also a contributor to SFPPR News & Analysis.