Should non-citizens be eligible to vote?
Outlandish!—especially in a presidential election year. (Isn’t epidemic fraud bad enough?) Yet a movement to grant the vote to all immigrants, even illegal immigrants, has been gathering steam for more than two decades. And it looks likely to grow more as America’s immigrant population grows.
Typical of the Treason Lobby, immigrant voting is justified in the language of Americanism—“rights,” “justice,” “democracy,” “no taxation without representation,” “tradition”—to disguise the concept’s underlying radicalism.
Example: American University law professor Jamin “Jamie” Raskin`s seminal 1993 article in the University of Pennsylvania Law Review, “Legal Aliens, Local Citizens: The Historical, Constitutional and Theoretical Meanings of Alien Suffrage”. Raskin [Email him] argued the idea is simply a restoration of common sense and civic virtue:
Today, with the extraordinary, though still largely unwritten, history of alien suffrage safely hidden from view, the U.S. citizenship voting qualification ropes off the franchise in every American state from participation by non-U.S. citizens. As a marker at the perimeter of the American body politic, the citizenship qualification carries the aura of inevitability that once attached to property, race, and gender qualifications…
[T]he current blanket exclusion of noncitizens from the ballot is neither constitutionally required nor historically normal. Moreover, the disenfranchisement of aliens at the local level is vulnerable to deep theoretical objections since resident aliens—who are governed, taxed and often drafted just like citizens—have a strong democratic claim to being considered members, indeed citizens, of their local communities.
The campaign to give non-citizens voting rights thus far has attained only local success. But, like mass immigration itself, this is a long-range program marked by unrelenting activism.
Consider a pair of defeated ballot measures in November 2010:
- In San Francisco, voters rejected by 55 percent to 45 percent “Proposition D,” an initiative to create a pilot program allowing noncitizen residents of the city, aged 18 and over, and with one or more children attending school in the San Francisco Unified School District, to vote in Board of Education elections.
But this was the second time around. In 2004, local voters turned down, by a mere 51 to 49 percent margin, a similar measure called Proposition F.
And neither measure should have appeared on the ballot. City Attorney Dennis Herrera issued an opinion that Proposition D conflicted with Article 2, Section 2 of the California constitution, which clearly defines voter eligibility and had been upheld by a state Superior Court in 1996.
- In Portland, ME, voters rejected, by a 51.5 to 48.5 percent margin, “Question 4”, would have gone further and granted to lawful aliens the right to vote in all municipal elections.
Portland might seem like an odd focal point for a campaign to redefine U.S. citizenship. Yet like most of Maine (and for that matter, most of New England), the city’s traditional Yankee Republicanism has decayed into the sentimental “inclusiveness” prized by progressives. (Not unrelated, Maine and New England have experienced a recent immigration explosion from Latin America and Africa, particularly Somalia. Portland, population 65,000, is now home to an estimated 5,000 to 7,500 first-generation immigrants.)
“Noncitizens hold down jobs, pay taxes, own businesses, volunteer in the community and serve in the military, and it’s only fair they be allowed to vote.”[Cities Weigh Letting Noncitizens Vote, Associated Press, October 25, 2010]
But what kept Rwaganje from becoming a citizen? A legal resident alien can apply for U.S. citizenship after only five years.
Note that Portland voters rejected Question 4 only by three percentage points. Note also that the City’s Charter Commission had voted 7-5 that March against putting the issue on the ballot at all. [Immigrant vote goes to referendum, By Dennis Hoey, Portland Press-Herald, August 12, 2010]
And, as in San Francisco, Portland’s measure was in violation of the state constitution and likely would not have survived a court challenge. It’s an indicator of the fanaticism of Question 4’s supporters that they collected enough signatures to override the Commission via petition.
Public officials elsewhere in the U.S. are warming up to noncitizen voting:
- San Francisco City Board of Supervisors President David Chiu was the driving force behind 2010’s Proposition D. The Taiwanese-born Chiu argued that, since about a third of local public school students had immigrant parents or guardians, those adults should be able to vote on who runs the schools.
- New Haven CT Mayor John DeStefano [Email him] announced his support for granting “undocumented” a.k.a. illegal immigrants the right to vote last December: “We’re a place of differences…We’re a place that sees a strength and places a value on welcoming folks from all over.” He dismissed critics as demagogues trying to scapegoat immigrants. [Conn. mayor seeks to let illegal immigrants vote, AP, December 20 2011]
A number of U.S. localities already have succeeded in making immigrant voting rights a reality.
- Takoma Park, MD, was first out of the starting gate. In November 1991 local voters passed a referendum (we’re talking about a DC suburb) to allow noncitizens the right to vote in municipal elections and run for public office.
A few years earlier, in 1985, Takoma Park had declared itself a “sanctuary city,” barring police and all municipal employees from assisting in the enforcement of federal law against suspected illegal immigrants. This ordinance was reaffirmed in October 2007. [Takoma Park Stays Immigrant `Sanctuary`, By Steve Hendrix, Washington Post, October 30, 2007]
Treason Lobby law professor Jamie Raskin, now doubling as a Maryland Democratic state senator, played a key role. With fellow-Democrat George Leventhal, a Montgomery County Council member, Raskin co-chaired a campaign, Share the Vote, urging passage of the 1991 measure.
Leventhal today stands by the campaign, saying:
“A foreigner might have a different foreign policy interest, but when you are talking about choosing a mayor or a city council member, your interests are equal to your neighbor…If you own a home, if you want your garbage picked up or your street paved, that really doesn’t address the issue of national citizenship.” [Takoma Park stands by non-U.S. citizen voting law, By Aaron Kraut, Washington Post, March 14, 2012]
- Several other Montgomery County communities also have ordinances allowing noncitizen voting: Barnesville, Garrett Park, Glen Echo, Martin’s Additions, Somerset and a portion of Chevy Chase. Maryland Municipal League
- Amherst, Cambridge, and Newton, Massachusetts each now allow immigrants to vote,
(However, though their respective measures have yet to receive approval from the state legislature.)
- Chicago has allowed non-citizens have been allowed to vote in school board elections since 1989
- New York City allowed non-citizens to vote in school board elections from 1970 until 2003 (at which point the New York state legislature scrapped elected community school boards in favor of direct mayoral control).
- San Diego’s (heavily Hispanic) City Heights section of, noncitizens as well as citizens to vote in area planning committee elections.
Additionally, Connecticut, Maine, Minnesota, New York and Texas, plus the District of Columbia, have considered proposals to create immigrant voting rights in recent years.
The Treason Lobby is thinking big. At an April 2011 conference, a sociology professor at the University of California, Santa Barbara, William Robinson, asserted:
“One of the most important calls we can make for social justice globally is to abolish the distinction between immigrants and citizens.” [Emphasis added].
Remember that Piven and with her late husband, Richard Cloward, were the driving forces behind the 1993 “Motor Voter” legislation whose effect (and probable intent) has been to make voter registration fraud easier. The pair could be seen standing behind President Clinton as he signed the bill into law.
- David Earnest,[Email him] a George Washington University political scientist, surveyed immigrant voting rights around the world and approvingly concluded in a 2003 paper that about a fourth of the world’s democracies allow noncitizen voting.
Alien suffrage, he claimed, actually may be conducive to domestic tranquility, having occurred throughout the world “with relatively little violence.” [Noncitizen Voting Rights: A Survey of an Emerging Democratic Norm, August 29, 2003]
- Stephen Spring, at the time a student at the University of Southern Maine, asserted in a paper for the Muskie School of Public Service, “Taxation with Representation: Voting Rights for Immigrants” that a good city is inherently multicultural:
“Portland has been named some (sic) of the best small cities in the US by several national periodicals: Money, Inc. and Outdoor magazines. It is no surprise that we have over 60 languages spoken in our school system or that over 30 nationalities are represented in our school system.”
Only those pesky nativists stand in the way of such wonderfulness being replicated on a national scale. “Bias and anti-immigrant sentiment exists in the United States and has worsened since the terrorist attacks in September of 2001,” Spring lamented.
- Ronald Hayduk, [Email him] a political scientist at City University of New York, is de facto leader of the noncitizen voting movement. Co-founder and co-director (with Michele Wucker, [Email her] president of the World Policy Institute) of the New York-based Immigrant Voting Project, Hayduk is a prolific author, ever ready to make the case for extending the franchise to noncitizens.
In a 2004 article for New Political Science, “Democracy for All: Restoring Immigrant Voting Rights in the U.S. ”[PDF] (later expanded into a book of the same name), Hayduk made the case, as Raskin had done before him, that immigrant voting is an expression of longstanding American values. More than 20 states and federal territories during 1776-1926, he argued, had at one time or another permitted noncitizens to vote.
In hard-Left purple prose rivaling that of Jesse Jackson, Hayduk declared:
Working-class individuals and people of color—particularly in metropolitan regions—face many of the same problems that immigrants do, including discrimination in employment, housing, education and so on. Common interests can forge common ground, reduce competition and strife, and enhance mutual understanding and cooperation. On the other hand, the struggle for scarce economic resources, cultural differences and prejudice can breed inter-group conflict. Universal voting rights can provide a buffer against potential social strife or segmented assimilation.
Hayduk made his intent even clearer later in the article:
Making common cause among immigrants—and with other people of color, African-Americans—is crucial to forge a progressive agenda. Together they are, after all, the emerging working-class majority. Of course, invoking the need for working-class solidarity across racial and ethnic lines will not alone overcome the multiple and significant challenges progressives face in forging and sustaining such alliances. Still, it is a start. [Emphasis added]
But at least Hayduk hasn’t been nominated to a position in the Obama administration—unlike another advocate of noncitizen voting:
- Paul Tiao, special counsel to FBI Director Robert Mueller and a former federal prosecutor.
Obama nominated Tiao to serve as Inspector General for the Department of Labor in 2010. A year later, in the face of heavy opposition from Republican senators, Tiao withdrew his name.
Tiao’s history of union partisanship was one problem. But some GOP lawmakers found especially troubling a 1993 article Tiao had published, prior to becoming a prosecutor, in the Columbia Human Rights Law Review, “Non-Citizen-Suffrage: An Argument Based on the Voting Rights Act and Related Law. ” All lawful permanent residents, Tiao maintained, should be eligible to vote in federal, state and local elections.
In the late Nineties, in a more conventional affirmation of ethnic identity politics, Tiao helped found a political action committee, the Asian American Action Fund.
That raises the issue of political affiliation. Whether or not one wants to admit it, making non-citizens into voters would benefit the Democrats far more than the Republicans. Analyzing nationwide voting patterns, University of Maryland political scientist James Gimpel, in a February 2010 paper for the Center for Immigration Studies, “Immigration, Political Realignment, and the Demise of Republican Political Prospects,” concluded that “large-scale immigration has caused a steady drop in presidential Republican vote shares throughout the country.”
And Mark Hugo Lopez, in a paper for the Pew Hispanic Center, concluded from various polls following the 2010 elections: “With the exception of Florida…Democratic candidates won the Latino vote, usually by wide margins.” Lopez cited, among other examples, the U.S. senate race in California, where Democratic incumbent Barbara Boxer won 65 percent of the Latino vote compared to only 29 percent for Republican challenger Carly Fiorina. He also cited the gubernatorial race in that state in which Hispanics preferred Democrat Jerry Brown to Republican Meg Whitman by 64 percent to 31 percent. . [The Latino Vote in the 2010 Elections, November 3, 2010]
Abdirizak Daud, a Somali non-citizen immigrant in his early 40s and a resident of Portland, Maine, would seem typical. Daud, who arrived in Minneapolis in 1992 before moving to Portland in 2006, had nine children as of 2010, several of whom were attending the city’s public schools. During the Question 4 campaign, he complained that he lacked say in how those schools are run, and that his limited English-speaking proficiency, plus his lack of knowledge of U.S. history and government, rendered him unable to pass a U. S. citizenship test. Remarked Daud: “I like the Democrats. I want to vote for Democrats, but I don’t have citizenship. ” [Cities Weigh Letting Noncitizens Vote, Associated Press, October 25, 2010]
But what’s unfair about that? Not even every citizen gets to vote, the most obvious classes of ineligibility being persons under age 18 and adults (in certain states) with a felony record.
More broadly, citizenship in any country is inherently exclusionary. That is, certain persons—i.e., citizens—enjoy at least some rights unavailable to others. Otherwise, there would be no point of distinguishing between citizen and non-citizen.
And if voting isn’t allowed to function as such a marker, what should?
Some other key points:
- Allowing immigrants to vote would be a tacit admission that nothing can be done about immigrant vote fraud.
Former Federal Election Commission Member Hans von Spakovsky, in a 2008 paper for The Heritage Foundation, noted that there are more than a million illegal immigrants in Florida alone—significant, because the U.S. Justice Department by then had prosecuted more citizen vote fraud cases in Florida than in any other state. State officials are now investigating whether as many as 2,700 non-U.S. citizens currently registered to vote in Florida have been unlawfully casting ballots. The probe, based on research by the Miami Herald and Miami’s CBS television affiliate, revealed that about 2,000 of the potential violators live in Miami-Dade County.
Rather than “solve” the problem by allowing noncitizens to vote, why not repeal the Motor Voter law and place greater restrictions upon immigration?
- the notion that immigrants here are “disenfranchised” by not being allowed to vote ignores an inescapable reality: Their eligibility necessarily would dilute the votes of citizens.
Assume, for example, a hypothetical situation in which 5,000 ballots are cast in a local election, 4,000 by citizens and 1,000 by noncitizens. By definition, the citizen vote would reflect only 80 percent of its actual collective preference. So who exactly is being disenfranchised?
- Historical cases of non-citizen voting in the U.S. are misleading.
Some states did allow non-citizens to vote; Arkansas in 1926 was the last to ban the practice. But, as City University of New York political scientist and clinical psychologist Stanley Renshon—think of him as Hayduk and Piven’s in-house foil at CUNY—argued in a 2008 paper for the Center for Immigration Studies, such cases were exceptions to the rule. And, even as exceptions, they sprung from a desire to establish a workable polity in sparsely populated territory and/or to gain admission to the union. “Diversity,” as we know the word today, didn’t figure.
- The notion that tax liability morally necessitates a grant of voting rights is simply wrong.
Noncitizens, like citizens, receive goods and services in return for those taxes. Moreover, very few low-wage workers, whether citizens or not, now pay personal income taxes, especially if they have minor children living with them.
Most recent immigrants receive public benefits way in excess of what they would be getting in their country of origin—indeed, this is a key reason why they come here in the first place. As Renshon notes:
[T]he truth is that immigrants from most countries enjoy an immediate rise in their standard of living because of this country’s advanced infrastructure, for example, hospitals, electricity, communications. They also get many services for their taxes like public transportation, police, trash collection, and so on. Most importantly and immediately they get what they came for: freedom and opportunity.
The non-citizen voting rights movement is still in the germination stage. But it would be folly to downplay its dangers. Its advocates are as patient as they are unrelenting. Their object is to erase America’s historic national identity—while disingenuously claiming the patriotic high ground. It’s all part of larger project: the Left’s war against the nation-state—and liberty.
Carl F. Horowitz (email him) is project director at the National Legal and Policy Center, a Falls Church, Va. -based nonprofit organization dedicated to promoting ethics and accountability in American public life. He has a Ph.D. in urban planning and public policy and has taught in the urban and regional planning program at Virginia Polytechnic Institute.