Photo Credit - Flickr Common
If you stood on a busy street in downtown Chicago or New York City and asked passing U.S. citizens “Should those that are not U.S. citizens be able to vote?”; realistically a large majority would answer anywhere from “No way.” to “That’s illegal.” to “Not according to our consitiution.” to “Become a citizen first.” to “Voting is a right of citizens only.” to “Hell No.”
Most Americans see the right to vote in U.S. elections as a sacred right “as an American citizen” and one that should not be politicially handed to anyone that is not a citizen – legal or illegal non-citizen residents. Most Americans relate the right to vote to a freedom Americans have sacrificied for and died for throughout our national history. Most Americans feel it is a priviledge given by our constitution to be excersised only by those with the right to shape political policy – citizens of the United States.
Most Americans do not realize the U.S. Constitution does not prohibit non-citizen voting rights on a local level. All 50 states allow only citizens to vote in state or national elections legally. Legislation signed by President Clinton made it a crime for any non-citzen to vote in a federal election with the Illegal Immigration Reform and Immigrant Responsibility Act of 1996.
Federal elections have always restricted voting rights to citizens; however, many states and territories have allowed non-citizens to vote in their local elections as long as residential requirements were met since colonial times.
With heavy legal immigration in the early 20th century, states began eliminating legal non-citizen voting rights. There are several cities in the U.S. currently estimated to have a population comprised of up to 40% non-citizens – legal and illegal. Today, legal non-citizens may vote in six municipalities in Maryland in municipal elections and in the city of Chicago’s school elections.
Within the past few years, cities and other local jurisdictions in California, Connecticut, District of Columbia, Massachusetts, Maine, New York, and Texas have put forth local political discussion and proposals to allow legal non-citizens to vote in school or local elections with varying political outcome.
On the ballot this November 2, two cities have measures asking voters if voting rights should be extended to legal non-citizens. In San Francisco, Proposition D if passed would allow non-citizens to vote in school board elections if they are the parents, legal guardians, or caregivers of children in the school district. In Portland, Maine, the ballot measure if passed would allow city residents who are not U.S. citizens to vote in school board and budget matters, city council elections, and on other local issues.
Extending the right to vote to legal non-citizens in New York is being put forth via the “Resident Voting Rights Act” bill by the city council as opposed to being put on a ballot for voters to decide. The bill if passed would allow any legal resident to vote in municipal elections. The bill is expected to be put to a politician vote in the next few months.
According to an October 19, 2010 U.S. Census Bureau press release, “36.7 million of the nation’s population (12 percent) were foreign born, and another 33 million (11 percent) were native-born with at least one foreign-born parent in 2009, making one in five people either first or second generation U.S. residents.” The 2010 Census goal was to count all U.S. residents including citizens and legal non-citizens. It is widely accepted a significant effort was made to include illegal residents in the population counts also.
Maybe because these non-citzen voting rights extensions are most often spearheaded by Democrat politicians and liberal immigration or youth progressive organizations, many political cynics see them as the start of a political push to revise voting rights at all levels, including federal ultimately, to be extended to all U.S. residents possibly including illegal immigrants under federal comprehensive illegal immigration reform ultimately. The cynics see sanctuary cities leading the way to extend voting to non-citizens. They see Democrats as wanting to change the national voting demographics and dynamics in hopes of increasing what they see as voters for their party.
Non-political class opponents most often cite that legal non-citizen residents and legal immigrants should adopt the U.S. as their country by becoming legal U.S. citizens before being given the right to vote in any election. They believe legal immigrants will not have an incentive to become citizens if they are given the right to vote without becoming a citizen. They see loyalty to the U.S. as minimized if voters are not citizens first.
Political class and non-political class supporters most often cite legal non-citizen residents and legal immigrants are more invested in and loyal to the U.S., and in particular the schools and community, if they have the right to vote. They find the argument that Democrats are simply looking to increase their voting demographics and dynamics absurd. They note the voting right extensions being discussed are for local elections only taking into account the 1996 federal legislation that includes no state or federal voting rights law. They note there is a history of non-citzens voting in local elections.
In the discussion, some wonder whether or not people would come into the U.S. on a legal Visa expecting the right to vote. Some wonder whether voter right extension to those that are not U.S. citizens would increase voter and election fraud at all levels by making voting right identification harder to determine.
One thing that should be asked and answered by both sides realistically is “Would giving non-citizen voting rights dilute the meaning and therefore the value of U.S. citizenship and sovereignty?” If politicians are as concerned about foreign money campaign contributions stealing our democracy as expressed by the Obama administration against Republicans in this mid-term elections season, are they equally concerned about foreign votes and increased voter fraud as well? Only time will tell.