Did Al Franken Really Win in 2008 Because of Non-Citizen Voting?


A few days ago, a new headline spread like the plague across the worst of the worst conservative publications: VOTER FRAUD IS REAL, it said. And the politician taking the greatest advantage, they say? Minnesota's own, U.S. Sen. Al Franken.

Naturally, the story went viral in Tea Party circles: the Drudge Report, the National Review, all your favorites. But is it actually true? Considering the questionable sources of this stuff, we'd automatically lean toward a full-on no. But we decided to look anyway.

See also: Mike Freeman on GOP-ers Making Franken-Coleman Voter Fraud Allegations: 'They Are Just Liars'

Interestingly enough, the rumor wasn't simply spewed out of the mouth of some conservative on the radio (though the meme has made the rounds over and over in the past).

Conservatives like to point to the 312-vote margin that Franken beat Coleman by in 2008, after a lengthy recount. With so much "rampant voter fraud," they say, Franken should have never been in office.This despite the fact that there's basically no evidence of actual, widespread voter fraud.

But the source of this talking point is actually kind of different. The claim comes from a real academic source -- Old Dominion University political science professors Jesse Richman and James Earnest. Using a huge batch of data called the Cooperative Congressional Election Study, the two were able to estimate how many non-citizens -- as in undocumented immigrants or immigrants with green cards -- voted in 2008 and 2010.

From what they say, it's a lot. They published a summary of their results on the Washington Post's Monkey Cage blog. The results are interesting -- based on the duo's calculations, 6.4 percent of non-citizens voted in 2008, a pretty solid chunk.

But for our concerns, one specific passage was the most important:

Non-citizen votes could have given Senate Democrats the pivotal 60th vote needed to overcome filibusters in order to pass health-care reform and other Obama administration priorities in the 111th Congress. Sen. Al Franken (D-Minn.) won election in 2008 with a victory margin of 312 votes. Votes cast by just 0.65 percent of Minnesota non-citizens could account for this margin.

In other words: Yeah, if you take what could have happened on a national level and applied it to Minnesota's Senate race, non-citizens could have changed the election. But again, that comes with lots of "if's." So not exactly a ringing endorsement.

Plus, in the days after the study appeared, people cast a whole lot of doubt on that Franken conclusion. It turns out there are a whole bunch of limitations that others have talked about with the study. First of all, you can't just take nationwide data and apply it to a local level. Second, and most important, the surveys the authors relied on were done online, in English, and intended to be used by citizens. Not exactly the best way of surveying if you want accurate results from non-citizens.

So could non-citizens have swung 2008 Franken's way? Maybe. But based on the wealth of past data we have showing that voter fraud basically doesn't exist, probably not. There's another election to worry about tomorrow. Go vote in that instead.

Send your story tips to the author, Robbie Feinberg. Follow him on Twitter @robbiefeinberg.