This question is motivated by the recent discussions about "voter fraud" and "rigged election" in the media. I am not asking about the extent of actual voter fraud, but about how easy it would be to commit fraud. There are many potential types of fraud, but let me focus on one: suppose you're not a US citizen, and wish to register and cast a vote at a presidential election (illegally of course). How easy would it be to do that?

I have tried to answer the question myself, and of course the answer will depend on the state. Let me consider for instance Massachusetts, which is the state where I live, and should be a good representative of the states that do not have law considered as limiting votes by putting excessive requirements. To vote in Massachussets, you must be registered, which
can be done in three ways: online, by mail, in person. By mail seems the easiest way, because you need to give your name and address, and either a copy of a government ID, or the last four digits of your SSN, or any lease, bill, etc with your name and address or it. I was surprised that there it is not required to give a document showing that you are indeed a citizen. Hence my question:

Does the state (MA for instance, or any other you may have information on) try to check if you're a citizen when you register for voting? If so, how?

This can be split into many subquestions. Does the state check if the four digits of the SSN you give matches the name you give? Assuming it does, can the state check if a person, known to it by name and SSN, is a citizen or not? If yes, how? Is there a federal registry of all citizens, that the individual states can access to? What if instead of giving your last four number of SSN, you just give a document with your name or address (which seems trivial to fake). Will the state check if the person trying to register exists, and if this person is a citizen? How?

[I am French, and a permanent resident in the US. I am a little bit surprised about how these things are organized are, because the rule in France is that when you ask for something reserved to citizen (registering for voting, getting a passport, etc.) you yourself have to provide the proof that you are indeed a citizen, by furnishing either a birth certificate showing that you're born in France and that one of your parent was either French or born in France at the time you were born (that's the condition for being French by birth), or a naturalization document. There seems to be nothing of that sort in the US (in MA at least)...] [Also, I hope it is the right site for this question]

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    This would be hard to cover completely. You've asked several subquestions, and the answer to each will depend on the state, like you mentioned. – Geobits Oct 18 '16 at 17:45
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    Is it true that you need to be a French citizen to vote in France? I'd understood EU citizens could vote in local and European elections across the EU... – origimbo Oct 18 '16 at 18:31
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    While a valid question, it assumes this is an effective means of fraud...which it really isn't. In-person voter fraud is a really inefficient way to sway an election. All that said, I think you can easily find a lot of info on this topic by reading up on all the voter ID law debates going on at the moment. – user1530 Oct 18 '16 at 19:15
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    @blip This doesn't ask about in-person fraud--it's asking about registration fraud. Once registered, they can cheat the normal way: by absentee ballot. Note for example the problems that some states are having with people claiming not to be citizens when called for jury duty but claiming to be citizens when voting. Proving that you live in a certain place doesn't establish that you are eligible to vote there. It's just one requirement. – Brythan Oct 18 '16 at 19:24
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    Possible duplicate of Is anything preventing non-US citizens from illegally registering to vote in non-Voter-ID states? Which is not to say that this is not an eloquently expressed or an uninteresting question. But it is effectively the same as the duplicate and some of the answer to that one may illuminate anyone seeking an answer to this Q as well. – grovkin Aug 14 '18 at 21:04

Say you register successfully in Massachusetts through your water bill. After that you basically have nothing to worry about. The only states that are actively checking the Social Security Network are Virginia, Nevada, and Washington NCSL The only checks that are legal and would occur are the following, none of which is likely to occur.

A state may remove the name of a voter from the voter list under the following circumstances: A voter confirms in writing that he/she moved from the jurisdiction or wishes to be removed from the voter rolls. To do this a voter could: make the request directly in writing; complete a confirmation card confirming a change of address; or complete a voter registration application in a different jurisdiction and provide information about the prior registration, which can be treated as a request to cancel/transfer the prior registration.

The state receives reliable second-hand information that the voter has moved (through the United States Postal Service, for example) AND the voter doesn’t respond to a confirmation mailing sent by the state AND the voter fails to vote or appear to vote between the time the confirmation mailing was sent and the second federal general election.

The state receives reliable information that a voter is deceased.

Depending on state regulations, voters can be removed for mental incapacity or a criminal conviction (see NCSL’s Felon Voting Rights page for information on the varied state requirements for persons with felony convictions to regain voting rights).

Given the above, it's not surprising that 1000s of illegal immigrants are on the voter registration rolls

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    It's worth noting that someone's being on the social security rolls does not necessarily mean that the person is a US citizen. – phoog Nov 20 '16 at 5:15
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    "it's not surprising that 1000s of illegal immigrants are on the voter registration rolls" That's a highly unreliable website, and nothing in the article supports that there are any "illegal immigrants" on the voter rolls. It says "1,046 non-alien citizens were registered to vote" -- of course citizens are non-aliens, and it's normal for them to be registered to vote. The linked-to study says "1,046 alien non-citizens successfully registered to vote"; nothing there says they are "illegal" aliens. Indeed, illegal aliens cannot get driver's licenses in Virginia, so they must be legal aliens. – user102008 Apr 3 '18 at 2:17
  • @user102008: It also has nothing to do with why illegal aliens are on the rolls. It has to do with why some citizens are on the rolls two or more times. – Joshua Jan 15 '19 at 20:47
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    " The only checks that are legal and would occur are the following, none of which is likely to occur." No cite given. "Given the above, it's not surprising that 1000s of illegal immigrants are on the voter registration rolls" No cite given. – Acccumulation Jan 15 '19 at 22:12
  • @phoog The Social Security Administration keeps a record of whether or not the person with the social security number is or isn't a citizen. At naturalization ceremonies, new citizens are reminded to update their status with the Social Security Administration. "visit Social Security so they can update your Social Security record. Wait at least 10 days after your ceremony ... show them your Certificate of Naturalization or your U.S. passport." uscis.gov/sites/default/files/USCIS/Office%20of%20Citizenship/… – DavePhD Jan 22 '19 at 3:11

I'm a naturalized US Citizen (originally Canadian). As far as I know, there are three, maybe four, governmental organizations that know that I'm a US citizen:

  1. The United States Citizenship and Immigration Services. They track me by an "A-number" (alien number) that no one else uses. They don't really care about me anymore - I'm sure I still have a file there, but...
  2. The Social Security Administration. Right after you naturalize, you are advised to let the SSA know of your new status. That's because the benefits for citizens are somewhat better than for folks like Permanent Residents. I filled in a form and showed them a passport (or my naturalization certificate - I can't remember which) for proof.
  3. The Department of State - I have a US Passport. This is optional, though I suspect that just about everyone who naturalizes gets a passport.
  4. Maybe the Texas drivers' license folks (it's now the DMV, but that's a new name). When you get a driver's license you need to show citizenship or immigration status (for "Real ID" purposes). The thing is, I was a permanent resident when I got my first Texas driver's license. I don't think I've ever showed them my US passport.

Looking at the standard Texas voter registration application (https://webservices.sos.state.tx.us/vrapp/index.asp), it asks if you are citizen and then asks for the last four digits of your SSN or for your full driver's license number. With a name and a 4-digit SSN, they can probably get your full SSN (or possibly a small list of probable entries). From that, they might be able get your citizenship status. I'd be surprised if they can ascertain your citizenship status from your driver's license number (maybe).

I do know that Texas counties will eventually drop you from the voter rolls. My daughter moved out of state, and after three letters to them (from me) saying she didn't live in our house anymore (over a period of years), we eventually got a letter saying that they were dropping her from the rolls (of course, that was two months after she'd moved back to Texas).

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  • "I don't think I've ever showed them my US passport": at some point you'll have to though, for a future renewal, won't you? If Texas were actually verifying citizenship using SSN records, don't you think they would just ask for the entire number? – phoog Aug 14 '18 at 20:19
  • I've renewed it since I naturalized. I don't remember if I had to prove my citizenship or residence. When you get a new Drivers' License, you need to prove enough residence-ness to comply with RealID requirements (en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Real_ID_Act). When I got my first TX DL, I had permanent residence. I naturalized about 4 years later and was required to renew in person 10 years after that first DL. I think I brought a passport with me, but I'm not sure I showed it. I wasn't keeping good enough notes. – Flydog57 Aug 14 '18 at 20:57
  • Very few organizations ask for a full SSN anymore. There's great fear of leaking PII (Personally Identifiable Information), so they collect the last four digits instead. The thing is, with a full name and the last four of an SSN, most systems can identify a person. – Flydog57 Aug 14 '18 at 20:59
  • But most systems use the last four digits of the SSN in combination with other data to help with internal identification of people. More commonly, as with banks, they use it for authentication: they already know the whole SSN, and they can be reasonably sure that anyone who knows the last four digits also knows the whole SSN. But any organization that needs to identify someone in the Social Security Administration's actual records asks for the entire number. – phoog Aug 15 '18 at 14:28
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    As to DL renewals, my understanding is that for citizens (and I suppose also for permanent residents) every other renewal requires in-person proof of lawful presence; alternate renewals can be by mail. If you had to renew in person, I suppose it's because you had to prove lawful presence, in which case you probably did show your passport. But my understanding is derived by inference from DMV sites of a small number of states rather than directly from having read the Real ID act. My state allows people to get non-Real-ID licenses, so I did that. – phoog Aug 15 '18 at 14:31

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