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What A Viral Voting Claim Got Wrong And Why Americans Are Still Right To Be Concerned

The data doesn’t say what the social media firestorm assumed, but those who reacted to the viral claim are right to be concerned about lax requirements for proving citizenship.

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A social media post went viral last week after interpreting Social Security Administration data to suggest a spike in voter registrations submitted without an ID in key states that also permit illegal immigrants to get Social Security numbers. That’s not quite what the data means, according to election officials and election law experts, but the data still raises more concerning questions than it answers.

“The number of voters registering without a photo ID is SKYROCKETING in 3 key swing states: Arizona, Texas, and Pennsylvania,” an account named “End Wokeness” posted on X.

Since the start of 2024:

TX: 1,250,710

PA: 580,513

AZ: 220,731

HAVV allows voters to register with a Social Security Number (4 digits). Illegals are not able to get licenses there. But they can get Social Security Cards (for work authorization permits).

The tweet, which linked to public SSA data, gained quite a bit of attention, including from X CEO Elon Musk, who called the data “extremely concerning.” The data doesn’t appear to indicate exactly what the social media firestorm assumed, but those who reacted to the viral claim are right to be concerned about lax requirements for proving citizenship.

What the HAVV Numbers Represent

The 2002 Help America Vote Act requires states to check information about newly registered voters in federal elections against the individual’s information (such as a driver’s license) stored in the state’s motor vehicle administration database. As the American Association of Motor Vehicle Administrators explains, HAVA “also mandates that [state motor vehicle agency] officials and the commissioner of social security reach agreements to verify the name, date of birth, last four SSN digits, and any information recorded in the Social Security Administration’s records regarding the death of an individual.”

The Social Security Administration created a new verification system called Help America Vote Verification (HAVV) two years later for states to verify such voter information with Social Security records. Because some voters register to vote using a Social Security number rather than a driver’s license number or state ID number, HAVV can conduct verification for voters whom state DMVs may not be able to verify.

Spokesman for the Pennsylvania Department of State Matt Heckel told The Associated Press that the HAVV numbers cited in the tweet “does not represent the numbers of newly registered voters,” but reflects the number of verification requests a state or its counties have sent to to SSA via the HAVV system.

Heckel told the AP that “in many cases, the same voter’s partial SSN is being checked more than once in a single year,” and that the state will use HAVV to also check absentee and mail-in ballot applications. Pennsylvania’s Deputy Secretary for Elections and Commissions Jonathan Marks testified in 2022 that the state uses HAVV to verify the Social Security numbers on absentee and mail-in ballot applications. Marks said the applications are verified “multiple times during the year before each election.”

But Heather Honey, executive director of the Election Research Institute and cofounder of Verity Vote, suggested Pennsylvania’s use of HAVV to check absentee and mail-in ballot applications violates its HAVV user agreement. The agreement states that HAVV “shall not be used to verify information for voters already on state voter registration rolls.”

Further, the SSA says that “states must only submit a request to us for new voters who do not present a valid driver’s license during the voter registration process.” But Honey says that states like Pennsylvania aren’t making that clear to voters, increasing the likelihood that voters will use the last four digits of their Social Security number to register to vote when they shouldn’t.

“Nearly two years ago Pennsylvania legislators requested an explanation for the Department of State’s improper use of the HAVV system,” Honey told The Federalist. “Instead of addressing the real vulnerabilities identified in Pennsylvania’s election system, the Department disparages those who identify the issues and prioritizes efforts to censor and silence them.”

Other Factors at Play

President of the North Carolina Election Integrity Team Jim Womack said “procedural, statutory and calendar-related causative factors” may also be at play.

HAVV data shows a high amount of verification requests from Pennsylvania from Jan. 13 to the present. “The PA primary in 2024 is April 23,” Womack explained. “That would explain the bevy of recent SSN look-ups in HAVV, in anticipation of the April primary.” The uptick right before the election could be due to “more aggressive list maintenance activity,” Womack said.

But based on Heckel and Marks’s admissions that Pennsylvania uses HAVV to verify applications for mail ballots, such applications also might explain the spike in the months leading up to Pennsylvania’s April election. Womack also noted Pennsylvania’s 2020 data is rather low in March and April, likely due to covid-19 restrictions hindering election office operations such as voter registration and verification.

HAVV numbers are also high in states performing “aggressive, cyclical list maintenance activity,” Womack posited, adding that higher numbers might indicate election officials “are actually doing a thorough job of verifying SSNs against birthdays and names.” He also suggested that Texas’s withdrawal from the leftist-linked Electronic Registration Information Center (ERIC) might be cause for an increase in HAVV look-ups “even though the HAVV look-up tool isn’t really designed for list maintenance purposes.”

“Kudos to the Texas Secretary of State and her election staff for the state’s conscientious list use of HAVV for list maintenance activity — something they did not get from ERIC,” he said.

Are the HAVV Numbers Even Accurate?

Texas Secretary of State Jane Nelson responded to the confusion by insisting, “The 1.2 million figure [which the viral post claimed represented the number of voters registering in Texas without a photo ID] comes from the Social Security Administration’s (SSA) website, which is supposed to report the number of times states have asked to verify an individual’s social security number.”

“The SSA number is clearly incorrect,” Nelson continued, “and we are working now to determine why there is such a large discrepancy.” But her office has not responded to The Federalist’s request to clarify whether she meant the 1.2 million figure inaccurately represents the number of verification requests Texas has sent.

The Federalist reached out to the Social Security Administration multiple times and was told “because of the technical nature of your inquiry, we are unable to give it the necessary attention in this forum.” This reporter was directed to the Social Security Administration’s Office of Public Inquiries and Communications Support, which has yet to provide answers.

Voting Without Proof of Citizenship Is Still a Huge Problem

The Associated Press chastised concerned social media users for worrying that illegal immigrants are using Social Security numbers to register to vote. “Only U.S. citizens can vote in federal elections and noncitizen voting is exceedingly rare, as states have processes to prevent it,” the AP claimed.

But further down in its “fact check,” the AP acknowledged that a voter simply has to declare he is a U.S. citizen when registering to vote in federal elections. Federal election registration does not require documentary proof of citizenship. In fact, states have been hamstrung from trying to require it.

Take Arizona, for example. Maricopa County Recorder Stephen Richer called the post “extremely” false and said the state has had “fewer than 35,000 registrants (out of 4.1 million registered voters in Arizona) who haven’t provided documented proof of citizenship.” That means, however, that thousands of voter registrants in a key swing state won by President Joe Biden in 2020 by fewer than 11,000 votes are not proving their eligibility to vote.

Arizona voters approved a law in 2004 that required documentary proof of citizenship to vote, but a 2013 Supreme Court ruling forced the state to accept the federal voter registration form, which only requires applicants to check a box claiming citizenship. Arizona responded by allowing voters who could not prove their citizenship to register as “federal-only” voters, but it was forced in 2018 to “not only accept federal-only applications lacking proof of citizenship but also grant a federal-only registration to applicants who used a state form but couldn’t provide proof of citizenship,” as my colleague M.D. Kittle explained.

This resulted in an “explosion of federal only voters,” according to Scot Mussi, president of the Arizona Free Enterprise Club. The number of voters who used a federal-only ballot ballooned from 1,700 people in 2018 to 11,600 in 2020, according to AZ Free News.


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