Musk uses megaphone to promote misleading claims about voting, push for severe restrictions
This week, Elon Musk has repeatedly promoted false and misleading claims about voting to his 168 million followers on X, the social network formerly known as Twitter. Musk then used these erroneous claims to justify massive restrictions on voting in the United States, including eliminating early voting, abolishing most mail-in voting, and imposing new identification requirements.
On January 9, for example, Musk posted that "Arizona clearly states that no proof of citizenship is required for federal elections." This revelation was accompanied by an image posted by an X user named Mark Jeffery, a cryptocurrency investor and self-published author of science fiction novels. A highlighted portion of the image states that individuals who do not provide proof of citizenship will be provided with a “federal only” ballot.
On January 10, Musk posted that he recently learned "illegals are not prevented from voting in federal elections," and that "came as a surprise." That claim is absolutely false.
Arizona's "federal only" ballots do not allow non-citizens to vote in federal elections. In 2004, Arizona tried to impose a requirement to provide proof of citizenship to vote in federal elections. The National Voter Registration Act of 1993, however, requires states to "accept and use a uniform federal form to register voters for federal elections." That form only requires "that an applicant aver, under penalty of perjury, that he is a citizen." A 2013 Supreme Court decision authored by the late Antonin Scalia, one of the most conservative Justices in the history of the court, found that Arizona lacked the authority to reject the federal form.
This does not mean that non-citizens are free to vote in federal elections in Arizona or elsewhere. Under federal law, providing false information in order to vote is punishable by up to five years in prison. The federal form warns non-citizens that submitting the form could result in deportation. The Arizona form instructs non-citizens not to submit the voter registration form:
Conservatives have used the existence of "federal only" voters in Arizona to claim that non-citizens are voting. But an analysis published last month by the AZ Mirror found "federal-only voters in the state are concentrated in areas where residents are simply unlikely to have easy access to documents proving their citizenship, such as college campuses and a Phoenix homeless shelter."
Musk's alarm about non-citizen voting is not grounded in fact. A study by the Brennan Center for Justice evaluating 23.5 million votes across 12 states in 2016 found 30 incidents of suspected non-citizen voting, 0.0001% of the 2016 vote in those jurisdictions. A 2022 audit of Georgia voting rolls found about 1600 noncitizens attempting to register to vote over a 25-year period, and no non-citizens were actually allowed to register or vote.
The issue of non-citizen voting is connected to the racist Great Replacement theory, popular with white supremacists, that falsely claims that Democrats are allowing non-citizens to illegally enter the country as part of a plot to seize political power. Musk has repeatedly endorsed the Great Replacement theory on X.
Musk calls mail-in voting "insane"
Musk has also been spreading misinformation about the safety of voting by mail. In a January 8 post on X, Musk said it was "insane" that many states allow voters to "mail in your ballot."
Musk’s suggestion that mail-in voting promotes fraud is false. Numerous studies have found that voting by mail is “safe and secure.” A database maintained by the right-wing Heritage Foundation, which supports restrictions on mail-in voting, reported “1,200 cases of vote fraud of all forms” from 2000 to 2020. Of those cases, “204 involved the fraudulent use of absentee ballots,” with “143 result[ing] in criminal convictions.” This amounts to “one case [of fraud using mail-in ballots] per state every six or seven years,” or “about 0.00006 percent of total votes cast.” Similarly, a 2017 study by the Brennan Center for Justice found the risk of fraud from mail-in ballots was 0.00004% to 0.0009% “based on studies of past elections.”
There are multiple layers of security for mail-in ballots. While these measures vary from state to state, “all ballots cast by mail or dropped off at a drop box are vetted to ensure their legitimacy.” Each mail-in ballot is recorded so that voters can submit only one, and when the ballots are returned, they are “logged” and “checked against registration records.” Mail-in ballots also include a serial number on each envelope in order to avoid the possibility of counterfeits.
A study from 2020 reported that “expanding mail-in voting increases voter access.” Yet, in a post on X, Musk argued, “If elections are open for 16 hours, essentially everyone can vote” in person. This claim disregards voters who may not be able to get time off work, find childcare, or travel to a voting station, as well as students and other voters who may not be physically present in their home state.
Musk's misleading claims about Voter ID
Musk has also repeatedly promoted Voter ID requirements, suggesting they will strengthen election security. “We should require government ID and in-person voting (unless valid medical/ military/etc excuse), like other countries do or like if you want to buy beer,” Musk said in response to a post.
But Musk’s claims are misleading — since 2002, anyone who wants to register to vote is required under federal law to provide either their driver’s license or the last four digits of their Social Security number. The Help America Vote Act also mandates that all first-time voters who register by mail and do not verify their identity must either show some form of identification at the polls or, if voting by mail, enclose a copy of it with their ballot.
Currently, 35 states “request or require” voters to provide documentation at the polls, according to the National Conference of State Legislatures. Depending on the state, valid identification can range from a photo ID to a bank statement with the voter’s name and address. A study by the National Bureau of Economic Research found imposing strict Voter ID laws had “no effect on fraud – actual or perceived.”
Musk also posted that “claiming that people can’t figure out how to get ID is racist and should be condemned in the strongest possible terms.” But it is not an issue of intelligence. Factors like “burdensome documentation requirements, prohibitive financial costs,” and “limited availability of ID services,” can create barriers for people attempting to obtain an ID, according to the Movement Advancement Project. Currently, Black, Hispanic, and Native American voters are “about twice as likely” as White and Asian voters to lack a valid, government-issued photo ID. Younger and lower-income voters are also more likely to lack identification.