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Yes, Some US States Already Allow Noncitizen Voting

Noncitizen Voting
Voting. Image Credit: Creative Commons.

At a time when both parties lack confidence in the electoral process, New York City is on the verge of becoming the largest jurisdiction in the United States to allow noncitizen voting, despite “mixed feelings” by outgoing Democratic Mayor Bill DeBlasio and outright opposition from Republicans.

In early December, the New York City Council approved the measure by a vote of 31-14, enough to override a DeBlasio veto, but he said he would “respect the city council” and not veto the measure first proposed by City Councilman Ydanis Rodriguez.

But that doesn’t mean the measure estimated to add another 800,000 green cardholders to the Big Apple’s voter registration rolls (for local elections only) will have an easy path forward.

Staten Island Borough President-elect Vito Fossella has vowed to sue to block the new law. Also, a group of Senate Republicans, led by Marco Rubio of Florida, proposed the Protecting Our Democracy by Preventing Foreign Citizens from Voting Act. The bill, with a lengthy title and little chance of passing in the near term, would prohibit federal funds from going to any state or local government that allows non-citizens to vote in any election.

While it took the nation’s largest city to prompt federal legislation, municipalities in California, Illinois, Maryland, and Vermont already allow noncitizens to vote in local elections, while the District of Columbia and jurisdictions in Massachusetts are pushing similar measures.

“It’s ridiculous that states are allowing foreign citizens to vote,” Rubio said. “However, if states and localities do let those who are not U.S. citizens to vote in elections, they shouldn’t get U.S. citizen taxpayer money.”

Rep. Jeff Duncan, R-S.C., is sponsoring the companion bill in the House.

“Allowing non-citizens or illegal immigrants to vote, even if only in state or local elections, gives foreign nationals influence on some of the most important decisions impacting our families, our rights, and our representation in government,” Duncan said. “Non-citizen voting has the potential to exacerbate the border crisis and cause a greater erosion of confidence in our electoral process.”

In the summer of 2021, the Vermont cities of Montpelier and Winooski approved noncitizen voting for local elections. The change required state approval, and the Democrat-controlled Legislature overrode the veto of Republican Gov. Phil Scott.

The New York City measure that expands only to green card holders in local elections, is in some ways more conservative than San Francisco, which allows even illegal immigrant parents or guardians to vote in school board elections. Los Angeles will have a ballot measure – decided among current voters – to decide whether to also allow noncitizen parents to vote in school board elections.

The trend among very heavily Democrat jurisdictions began in Takoma Park, Maryland, near Washington, D.C. in 1992. Since then, nine other Maryland cities and counties began allowing non-citizens to vote.

Chicago law allows non-citizens to vote and serve on school councils for individual schools, which have the power to approve how money is spent and the hiring of principles at schools. But the city doesn’t allow voting in school board elections. Some Democrats in the Illinois state Senate backed a measure in 2021 to expand voting for noncitizens statewide, but it didn’t pass.

The New York Times published an op-ed in July by Atossa Araxia Abrahamian, a writer for The Nation, under the headline “There Is No Good Reason You Should Have to Be a Citizen to Vote.” The piece argued: “Democrats are likely to be the biggest beneficiaries of this change — at least at first. But it could have interesting ripple effects: Elected Republicans might be induced to appeal to a more diverse constituency or perhaps to enthuse their constituents so deeply that they, too, start to vote in greater numbers.”

The partisan breakdown isn’t all that surprising.

Democrats have long wanted to import new voters in federal pathway-to-citizenship legislation. Even though this creation of new voters would only impact local elections, it would still dilute the votes of current citizens. Further, changing the makeup of the electorate will create a new bench for the Democratic Party in future elections. Today’s candidates for city council, school board, and mayor are tomorrow’s candidates for governor, Congress, and maybe even president.

“Adding 800,000 new non-citizen voters … will increase concerns over fraud, undermining faith in the system while diluting the voice of our citizens in selecting their local leaders,” said Fossella of Staten Island.

But Rodrigues, the New York bill’s sponsor in the City Council, said it’s about “no taxation without representation” and that “immigrants contribute billions to this country.”

In an era when Donald Trump on one side and Stacey Abrams on the other claim they were robbed in their losses, more tinkering with elections could further undermine the credibility of elections in the eyes of much of the public.

The Republican bill in Congress to curb noncitizen voting would likely gain popular support. But it won’t likely even come to a floor vote under a Democrat majority, and if it did pass, President Joe Biden would almost certainly veto it.

Still, there could be room for congressional input on the matter—particularly since the idea seems to be expanding.

Congress enacted a law in 1996 to prohibit non-citizens from voting in federal elections—for president and members of Congress. However, state laws vary and are in some cases silent. A 2017 article by  Joshua Douglas, a law professor at the University of Kentucky, said 14 states don’t explicitly prohibit local governments from making noncitizens eligible to vote: Arkansas, California, Colorado, Illinois, Maryland, Nevada, New Jersey, New Mexico, Ohio, Oklahoma, Rhode Island, South Dakota, Washington, and Wisconsin.

One of those states is represented by Oklahoma Sen. James Lankford, who co-sponsored the Rubio bill, and calls the forthcoming New York law another Democrat election scheme.

“The Fifteenth Amendment guarantees the right of every citizen to vote,” Lankford said. “Federal law and federal funding should uphold and honor the Constitution. Our nation’s elections at every level should be fair, secure, and decided by American citizens.”

Fred Lucas is chief national affairs correspondent for The Daily Signal and co-host of “The Right Side of History” podcast. Lucas is also the author of “Abuse of Power: Inside The Three-Year Campaign to Impeach Donald Trump.”

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Fred Lucas is chief national affairs correspondent for The Daily Signal and co-host of "The Right Side of History" podcast. Lucas is also the author of "Abuse of Power: Inside The Three-Year Campaign to Impeach Donald Trump."