TIME -- While there is no data to back up Trump’s claim, and in fact studies have found few documented cases of voter impersonation fraud in recent years, the president’s argument about immigrants is an old one.
In fact, it’s “eerily reminiscent” of voter-fraud claims made during the periods of heavy immigration to the U.S. more than a century ago, says Ron Hayduk, a political scientist at San Francisco State University.
In the early United States, the immigrant vote had not been such a concern. Though American fear of foreign enemies is as old as the nation, as demonstrated by examples like the anti-French Alien and Sedition Acts of the late 18th century, enthusiasm for the country’s brand-new democratic principles was given even greater weight in those early decades. Hayduk’s research found that at various points between 1776 and 1926, “40 states and federal territories permitted non-citizens to vote in local, state and even federal elections,” and that non-citizens were able to hold public office at various points. After all, in the mid-19th century, one just had to be a white, male property-owner to vote, and so-called “alien suffrage” (granting the right to vote to non-citizens) was seen as a way to lure foreign laborers — white, male ones — to help settle the frontier.
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