By Fredreka Schouten and Tierney Sneed, CNN

(CNN) — Voters in eight states soon will decide whether to change their constitutions to explicitly ban voting by noncitizens, part of a multipronged effort by allies of Donald Trump to raise the unlikely specter of foreigners casting ballots in November’s elections to throw the race to his Democratic opponent.

North Carolina, a potential presidential battleground, is the most recent state to put a citizen-only voting measure on the fall ballot – joining Idaho, Iowa, Kentucky, Missouri, Oklahoma, South Carolina and Wisconsin, another key swing state in the race for the White House.

It’s illegal for people who aren’t US citizens to vote in federal contests, and experts say it rarely happens, given that violators face imprisonment and deportation. But Republican policymakers have pointed to moves by individual cities to give legal noncitizen immigrants the authority to vote on municipal matters to stoke concerns about foreign infiltration of US elections.

The growing citizen-only voting movement marries two issues Republicans hope will animate their base this fall: concerns about election fraud and illegal immigration.

The Republican-controlled US House voted Wednesday to require proof of citizenship to register to vote in federal elections. In recent weeks, top Republican officials who oversee elections in Tennessee and Ohio have flagged potential noncitizens on their voting rolls, and Louisiana has enacted a law requiring proof of citizenship to register to vote.

On Monday, Republicans approved a draft party platform that includes a call for proof of citizenship in voting. The platform will be taken up next week at the GOP’s national convention in Milwaukee.

Trump himself has made outlandish claims about Democrats seeking to add undocumented immigrants to the voter rolls. “Non citizen Illegal Migrants are getting the right to vote, being pushed by crooked Democrat Politicians who are not being stopped by an equally dishonest Justice Department,” the former president wrote Tuesday on his Truth Social platform, urging passage of the congressional bill, known as the SAVE Act.

Critics, however, say the push to require proof of citizenship to vote could erect unnecessary barriers for US citizens, including young people on college campuses who might not have ready access to their birth certificates when they register to vote. And they argue that Republicans aligned with Trump are hoping to establish a predicate to challenge the outcome of November’s election should the GOP not succeed in winning the White House and making gains in Congress.

Michael Waldman, the president of the liberal-leaning Brennan Center for Justice at New York University’s law school, called concerns about widespread noncitizen voting “an urban myth … being pushed preemptively, I believe, to set the stage for undermining the legitimacy of the 2024 election.”

“This year, the Big Lie is being pre-deployed,” he said during a recent congressional hearing.

Trump allies are among those lobbying for the changes. Stephen Miller, a former senior adviser in the Trump White House known for his hard-line immigration positions, recently spoke in support of changing federal law to require proof of citizenship to register to vote.

Lawmakers who oppose that, Miller said during a news conference on Capitol Hill, “will be declaring to the whole country that they want Joe Biden’s illegals to vote in this election.”

Cleta Mitchell, a conservative lawyer who joined Trump on his now-infamous call to Georgia Secretary of State Brad Raffensperger urging him to “find” the necessary votes to overturn his 2020 defeat in the state, recently launched the Only Citizens Vote Coalition, which advocates proof-of-citizenship laws.

Federal and state moves

Republicans on Capitol Hill have made the issue a priority.

The GOP-controlled House has voted to repeal a Washington, DC, statute permitting legal permanent residents of the city to vote in local elections. The measure the House approved Wednesday, which had Speaker Mike Johnson’s backing, would require people to present proof of citizenship – such as a birth certificate or valid US passport – in person when registering to vote.

Neither bill is expected to pass the Senate, where Democrats hold the majority. But Johnson, at a recent news conference, said potential voting by undocumented immigrants represents a “clear and present danger to the integrity of our election system” and called the proof-of-citizenship bill “one of the most important pieces of legislation that will be presented within our lifetime.”

Among its provisions: requiring states to establish a system for removing noncitizens from their voting rolls and giving state officials access to federal agency databases to help determine the citizenship status of voters.

The bill would also allow private citizens to file lawsuits against election officials who registered noncitizens to vote.

The push to spell out prohibitions on noncitizen voting has gained traction at the state level too. Voters in Alabama, Colorado, Florida, Louisiana, North Dakota and Ohio all have approved citizenship voting requirements in recent years. And since the 2020 election, 11 states have approved new laws targeting noncitizen voting, according to a tally by the Voting Rights Lab.

In North Carolina, the Republican-controlled legislature late last month approved the fall ballot measure that would enshrine citizen-only voting in the state constitution. Like other states, the North Carolina legislature has the power to refer measures to the ballot without requiring the governor’s signature.

Voting by noncitizens is already against state law in North Carolina. And the state’s constitution says that “every person born in the United States and every person who has been naturalized” is eligible to vote.

Voters will decide whether to change that to say “only a citizen of the United States” can vote.

“It has to say ‘only,’ so it’s clear that’s what we mean,” said Paul Jacob, chairman of Americans for Citizen Voting, which has advocated ballot initiatives in North Carolina and other states.

“We’re really pushing back against cities around the country that are pushing noncitizen voting and saying, ‘Let’s let the people decide that,’” he said.

Washington, DC, is one of several localities that allow noncitizens to participate in local elections. Others include San Francisco; Takoma Park, Maryland, a liberal suburb just outside the nation’s capital; and three cities in Vermont.

A New York City law that would have allowed voting on local issues by some 800,000 legal permanent residents and people with authorization to work in US was struck down by two courts as violating the state constitution, following a legal challenge from the Republican National Committee and others. The City Council has appealed to New York state’s highest court.

The RNC recently filed a lawsuit challenging a noncitizen voting ordinance in school board and budget elections in another municipality, Burlington, Vermont – the state’s largest city.

“Americans should decide American elections,” RNC Chairman Michael Whatley said in a statement announcing the Burlington lawsuit. “Democrats’ persistent efforts to enable noncitizen voting dilute the voices of Americans in Vermont and across the country.”

Voting rights experts say instances of people who aren’t US citizens casting ballots are extremely rare. In Georgia, a state with nearly 8 million registered voters, state election officials in 2022 conducted an audit of its voter rolls to gauge attempts by noncitizens to register to vote. It found that 1,634 potential noncitizens?had attempted to register between 1997 and early 2022. But none was successful, according to Raffensperger, the Republican secretary of state.

And in North Carolina, a post-election audit of the nearly 4.8 million votes cast in the 2016 general election found evidence that 41 noncitizens with permanent legal status in the US had voted.

Still, the issue is a potentially powerful motivator for GOP voters.

Among Republican-aligned registered voters, immigration ranked behind only the economy as a top issue, according to a CNN poll conducted by SSRS in April.

And a recent Marquette Law School poll of registered Wisconsin voters found that 52% said Trump would do better on immigration and border security, compared with just 28% who thought Biden would.

Noncitizen voting is “a good issue for Republicans to drive,” said Charles Franklin, who oversees the Marquette poll. “Trump is combining multiple elements of immigration to make a powerful rhetorical connection between the border crisis and vote fraud and manipulation of elections,” he said.

A Supreme Court hurdle to proof-of-citizenship push

Amid the ballot initiatives banning noncitizen voting is a separate but related push to require that prospective voters provide documents showing their citizenship to register to vote.

Louisiana is the most recent state to adopt such a law, and the New Hampshire legislature has sent such a measure to Gov. Chris Sununu’s desk, but it is unclear whether he will sign it. Republicans hold the executive and legislative levers of power in both states.

Long-running Republican efforts to impose such mandates are constrained by a 2013 Supreme Court opinion, authored by the late Justice Antonin Scalia, that limited when a state could implement such a requirement.

The ruling allows?for demands of citizenship documents from voters casting ballots in state elections but says that for federal elections, states are obligated to accept a federal voter registration form that currently does not require proof of citizenship.

Only Arizona – where voters approved a 2004 ballot initiative at the center of the 2013 case – has set up the type of two-track election system that allows it to require proof of citizenship for state elections. It’s unclear whether Louisiana will seek to implement its newly passed requirement for federal elections.

The GOP-backed proof-of-citizenship bill in the US House would override the 2013 ruling by amending the National Voter Registration Act. But congressional Republicans would be unable to enact the legislation absent a GOP trifecta in Washington.

In the meantime, litigation is ongoing around a 2022 Arizona law that would impose the proof-of-citizenship requirement for voters in the presidential election and for ballots submitted by mail, with the RNC intervening in the case to defend the requirement.

The judge in the case has blocked the proof-of-citizenship requirement, and Republicans are asking an appeals court to reinstate it for this year’s election. The judge upheld other aspects of the law, including much of its requirement that county recorders use various databases to check for indications that a person seeking to register is a noncitizen.

Election experts have concerns that some databases are outdated and ill-suited for such an analysis.

Opponents of proof-of-citizenship requirements say that, without certain fail-safes or exceptions, such rules could lead to citizens being wrongfully disenfranchised because they lack access to the types of documents that meet the requirement.

A newly released survey conducted by the Center for Democracy and Civic Engagement and other groups found that 9% of voting-age citizens don’t have or would have difficulty accessing documents proving their citizenship and that 2% of voting-age Americans don’t have any form of such documents.

The people who could be disenfranchised by such a requirement would likely be very old and very young Americans, citizens on the lower end of the socioeconomic scale, and low-frequency voters, according to Justin Levitt, a Loyola Law School professor who has worked on voting issues in Democratic administrations.

Noting that some of those voters lean Republican, Levitt said of the GOP officials pushing the measures:?“In order to counter a stereotype – and maybe a tiny trinkle of wrongdoing – they may be hurting a larger group of eligible voters, and maybe even their own voters.”

This story has been updated with additional developments.

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