Only U.S. citizens can vote in federal elections. Sen. Mike Lee wants it codified in law so officials can check if a registered voter is a citizen.

“We can all acknowledge that federal law prohibits noncitizens from voting in federal elections,” said Lee, at a press conference Wednesday on the steps of the Capitol. “And the fact that we don’t have any mechanism in place currently to bring that about is folly.”

Lee spoke alongside Rep. Chip Roy at the press conference where they introduced their bill, which is called the Safeguard American Voter Eligibility Act.

“When federal law has been interpreted as precluding, in many ways, the voter registration officials in the various states from even inquiring into someone’s citizenship when addressing voter roll issues, we have a problem,” said Lee.

House Speaker Mike Johnson took a turn during the press conference at the podium, which had a sign reading “Americans Decide American Elections,” to offer his support for Lee and Roy’s bill. Johnson previously appeared with former president Donald Trump at Mar-a-Lago to forecast the bill.

U.S. Code states that if a noncitizen casts a ballot in a federal election, the person could face a fine, incarceration (not more than a year) or both.

Acknowledging that it’s already illegal for a noncitizen to vote, Johnson said, “there is a currently an unprecedented and a clear and present danger to the integrity of our election system.” He said as he’s done events in more than half the states across the country, the first or second question he gets asked is about election security. “Americans are deeply concerned about this, and it doesn’t matter where you live. And whether you’re in a blue or a red state, everyone’s concerned.”

Due to “razor-thin” election margins and number of noncitizens in the country, Johnson said the outcome of elections could be different if noncitizens cast votes. He also pointed toward some cities that allow noncitizens to vote in local elections. According to NPR, three Vermont cities — Montpelier, Winooski and Burlington — allow noncitizens who are legal residents to vote in local elections.

As for if noncitizens vote in U.S. elections, research indicates that it does happen, but it’s not widespread and it’s difficult to determine the precise rate at which it occurs. When Georgia Secretary of State Brad Raffensperger did a citizenship review of Georgia’s voter rolls, he found 1,634 people who tried to register to vote who were not citizens. None of them had cast ballots in Georgia’s elections.

Political science professor Jesse Richman wrote in a 2023 report, “I conclude that the incidence of noncitizen participation or attempted participation in U.S. and Arizona elections (through registration of voting) is low, but nonzero.” Richman wrote that around 1% of noncitizens in U.S. are registered. Not all in that category cast a ballot. In his report, Richman noted that in an Arizona election, just a few votes could make a difference in outcome, as he also said rhetoric often doesn’t capture the issue properly.

Lee opened his comments by referencing some sayings with significance on the Hill. “One of them is if everything’s an emergency, than nothing is. Another one is if everyone’s family, than no one is. That one also has special significance in my state where we have really large families.”

“It gets a little more complicated there,” Lee joked. Then, he continued, “The idea is that it does matter to be a citizen and if you’re not a citizen, there are certain things that that implies.”

“One citizen, one vote,” said Lee. “That’s how it’s supposed to work.”

Making a comparison to starting a job, Lee said people have to fill out I-9 paperwork. U.S. citizens have to bring birth certificates or passports to prove U.S. citizenship and U.S. birth. He asked why those same standards shouldn’t apply when registering to vote.

The 22-page bill would amend the National Voter Registration Act of 1993. A person would need to produce an ID consistent with the requirements of REAL ID, a passport, a U.S. military ID card and service record or another stipulated form of identification in order to vote in a federal election. Voter registration agencies would be required to ask if a person is a U.S. citizen and also ask for documentary proof via those methods of ID. The bill also directs states to establish a process for U.S. citizens who cannot furnish this proof to have an avenue to become a registered voter.

States would also have the ability to use federal databases to verify citizenship. The bill stipulates that proof of citizenship would also be required for mail-in voting.

“This is a sacred responsibility, one that we can’t treat lightly,” said Lee. “We owe it to ourselves, to each other, and most importantly to the American people, to make sure that those making decisions on behalf of our government and who’s going to serve in government, in elected office, are indeed empowered to make those decisions.”

Roy said the reason for introducing the bill is simple: “We should have a system to guarantee that only citizens of the United States vote in federal elections where we have the clear authority under the Constitution of the United States and our laws as Congress to set the terms of those elections.”

“That is what we are doing,” said Roy. “Nothing more complicated than that.”

As the chatter around voter registration has increased ahead of the 2024 presidential election, The Washington Examiner posted an article with the headline: “The Bidenbucks threat to free and fair elections.”

The outlet pointed toward an executive order issued by President Joe Biden on March 7, 2021. This executive order directs agencies to “consider ways to expand citizens’ opportunities to register to vote and to obtain information about, and participate in, the electoral process.” The Washington Examiner referenced Vice President Kamala Harris’ announcement of agencies like the Department of Health and Human Services, Department of Education, Department of Agriculture and Department of Housing and Urban Development using resources to encourage voter registration.

“Do any of these federal agencies have experience running voter registration and voter participation programs properly? No, of course not,” the outlet wrote. “Their relevant experience is, or at least should be, in health, education, farming and nutrition.”