The nation’s capital has joined jurisdictions in at least five states across the country in allowing noncitizens to vote in local elections.
The District of Columbia’s law takes effect Tuesday amid bipartisan opposition in Congress.
As noted in my 2022 book “The Myth of Voter Suppression,” Democrats long have sought to change election laws to gain a political advantage. These noncitizen voting laws mimic a tactic used by Tammany Hall and other political machines that controlled big city politics.
Rewriting election laws has been part of a national trend among left-leaning jurisdictions.
“The left is attacking what citizenship means,” J. Christian Adams, president of the Public Interest Legal Foundation, an election integrity watchdog group, told The Daily Signal in a written statement.
“When foreign nationals who have no stake in the future of our country are allowed to vote, it undermines the importance of citizenship and the more than century long [struggle] for black Americans to gain the right to vote,” Adams said. “Foreign nationals are diluting the power of black Americans to elect candidates of their choices. We have to stop this real foreign interference in our elections.”
Five states—California, Illinois, Maryland, New York, and Vermont—allow noncitizen voting in local elections for municipal offices or school board, according to the organization Americans for Citizen Voting.
At least 15 municipalities in those states allow for noncitizen voting, according to Ballotpedia. No state allows noncitizens to vote in statewide races, however.
A 1996 federal law specifically prohibits noncitizens from voting in federal elections for president or members of Congress. However, the law doesn’t dictate what local governments can do.
Here’s more information on the new D.C. law and related laws in other states.
Unlike the controversial D.C. crime bill, Mayor Muriel Bowser and the D.C. Council were in agreement on the measure to allow noncitizens to vote in local elections for offices such as mayor, council, and attorney general, as well as ballot initiatives.
Much like the crime bill, though, the noncitizen voting measure—called the Local Resident Voting Rights Amendment Act of 2022—faces bipartisan opposition in Congress, which has final say over D.C. laws.
“Immigrants, whether naturalized citizens, permanent residents, asylum seekers, DACA [Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals] recipients, undocumented residents, or otherwise, all contribute to the District and are essential to the fabric of our community,” according to the D.C. Council Committee on Judiciary and Public Safety. “Noncitizens, like citizens, deserve the opportunity to have a voice in the issues that affect them and to participate in electing the representatives who make decisions on their behalf.”
In February, 42 House Democrats voted with 218 Republicans for HJ 24, a measure to block the District of Columbia from allowing noncitizen voting. It is unlikely to come to a vote in the Democrat-controlled Senate, however.
Even the liberal editorial board of The Washington Post opposed the D.C. voting law, calling the measure “radical.”
The Post wrote in an October editorial: “There’s nothing in this measure to prevent employees at embassies of governments that are openly hostile to the United States from casting ballots.”
In 1789, before he became the nation’s third and most sinister vice president, Aaron Burr founded Tammany Hall, a New York machine that lasted well into the early 20th century.
In a move that might make some Democrats proud today, Tammany Hall established a “naturalization mill” to instantly turn immigrants coming off boats into voters.
The Washington Post, in a different piece, noted: “The machine paid court fees and provided witnesses to testify that immigrants had been in the country the required five years. Sometimes, usually before crucial elections, immigrants were sworn in as citizens the day they arrived.”
Not even bothering with naturalization, New York City passed legislation in late 2021 to allow noncitizen residents to vote in city elections for mayor, City Council, and other municipal posts. The law allows any legal residents, such as green card holders who reside in the city for more than 30 days, to register to vote, but still bars illegal immigrants from voting.
Public Interest Legal Foundation filed a federal lawsuit on behalf of four black New York City voters who challenged the law as a violation of both the 15th Amendment and Voting Rights Act of 1965, because it dilutes the votes of citizens.
Last year, a New York state court blocked the law.
The city of San Francisco, a bastion of liberalism, allows for noncitizen voting in school board elections.
Voters in San Francisco decided to amend the city charter in 2016 by approving a referendum question that asked: “Shall the city allow a noncitizen resident of San Francisco who is of legal voting age and the parent, legal guardian, or legally recognized caregiver of a child living in the San Francisco Unified School District to vote for members of the Board of Education?”
A total of 54% of voters answered yes.
So if a jurisdiction’s citizen voters approve something, what’s the problem? Well, the change might very well trample on the constitutional voting rights of other citizens.
Public Interest Legal Foundation filed a brief in support of citizen voters who argue that San Francisco’s law not only dilutes black citizens’ ability to elect candidates of their choice but also undermines the meaning of citizenship.
In 2022, the city of Oakland followed suit, adopting a measure for school districts similar to San Francisco’s. The Oakland ballot measure was approved with 67% of the vote.
That ballot question asked Oakland voters: “Shall the measure to amend the city charter to allow the City Council by adopting an ordinance, to authorize voting by noncitizen residents, who are the parents, legal guardians, or legally recognized caregivers of a child, for the office of Oakland School Board director if they are otherwise eligible to vote under state and local law be adopted?”
Eleven jurisdictions in Maryland allow noncitizen voting, the most of any state, according Ballotpedia.
The Maryland Constitution states that citizens age 18 and older may vote in state elections. However, it gives local governments discretion for local elections.
Maryland jurisdictions that allow noncitizens to vote include Barnesville, Cheverly, Chevy Chase, Garrett Park, Glen Echo, Hyattsville, Martin’s Additions, Mount Rainier, Riverdale Park, Somerset, and Takoma Park. (Most of these towns are in Montgomery County, which adjoins the District of Columbia.)
Only Illinois’ largest city, also one of the largest cities in the United States, allows noncitizen voting.
Chicago has allowed noncitizens to vote in school board elections since 1989. The city also allows noncitizens to serve on its school board.
However, noncitizens may not vote in any other city races.
Last year, two jurisdictions in Vermont, one of the least populous states in the country, enacted laws to allow noncitizen voting.
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The political machines of the past favored “naturalization mills” for signing up voters, immediately enfranchising the incarcerated or formerly incarcerated, and of course, smearing every reform from the secret ballot and voter registration to voter ID.
It is remarkable how the arguments and goals of the past have remained the same over the years, even though the language, framing, and selling points have been slightly altered.
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