Democrats have launched a desperate bid for permanent local control. Will they succeed?
The District of Columbia is currently seeking to join at least five states, including California, Illinois, Maryland, New York and Vermont, to embrace noncitizen voting in local elections. This includes municipal offices and school boards.
The organization Americans for Citizen Voting, which tracks changes in noncitizen voting and supports only citizens as voters, noted that Connecticut and Rhode Island also have plans in place to vote to allow noncitizen voting in 2023.
On the other end of the issue, eight states have laws in place allowing only citizens to vote, mostly led by red states, with some exceptions (such as Colorado and Minnesota).
Why are many Democrats pushing for noncitizens to vote in some U.S. elections? The overwhelming majority of noncitizens are expected to embrace Democratic candidates if allowed to vote, a major incentive that could bolster the Left’s impact in city elections, including pivotal school board member positions.
Permanent Local Control
In the District of Columbia, for example, Democratic Congresswoman Eleanor Norton condemned an attempt to block Washington from moving forward with noncitizen voting, claiming that the issue is a decision for the district’s voters.
“D.C. laws are matters for the duly elected D.C. Council and mayor, not unaccountable members of Congress,” Norton said in an October statement. “I will defeat this anti-home-rule bill, like I have defeated every other anti-home-rule bill introduced this Congress.”
Her response came after Texas Republican Rep. August Pfluger introduced a bill to block the Washington noncitizen voting effort. The congressman sounded off in his statement against the change, arguing that only “legal citizens” should be allowed to vote in any election.
“If you’re in the United States illegally, you don’t have the right to vote—period. Liberals in Washington, D.C. who want to allow noncitizens to vote are putting the integrity of our election system at risk. My bill will put a stop to it. Americans deserve the confidence in our elections and to know that only legal citizens are voting in the United States of America,” he claimed in a statement.
Pfluger is also a co-sponsor of the Protecting Our Democracy by Preventing Foreign Citizens from Voting Act which prohibits federal funds from being made available to state or local governments that allow noncitizens to vote in state or local elections. The bill was referred to the House Oversight and Reform Committee in 2021 where it failed to move forward, with the group under Democratic control at the time.
Escape From New York
Washington’s battle mirrors a similar effort taking place in New York City. The leaders of the New York City Council approved access to the ballot box for 80,000 green-card-holders and “Dreamers” in 2021.
The move, approved by then-Mayor Bill de Blasio (D), was designed to allow legally documented, voting-age noncitizens the ability to help select the city’s mayor, city council members, borough presidents, comptroller and public advocate. The change would impact approximately one in nine of the city’s voters and apply to lawful permanent residents for at least 30 days.
“It is no secret, we are making history today. 50 years down the line when our children look back at this moment they will see a diverse coalition of advocates who came together to write a new chapter in New York City’s history by giving immigrant New Yorkers the power of the ballot,” Council Member Ydanis Rodriguez, a main sponsor of the bill, said in a statement after the vote, according to the Associated Press.
The law was later ruled against by a judge who sided with Republicans challenging the measure as unconstitutional.
Conservatives across the nation are increasingly noticing the legal efforts in blue states and are sounding the alarm over concerns related to noncitizen voting bills being pushed by Democrats.
“Non-citizen voting dilutes the value of citizenship, normalizes illegal immigration, and invites foreign nationals to interfere in U.S. elections,” Rep. Jeff Duncan (R-SC) wrote last year. “The idea of non-citizen voting is absurd. If an American citizen moved to another country, would he expect to have a say in how that country is run without first becoming a citizen? Of course not.”
House Oversight Committee Chairman James Comer (R-KY) also expressed his concerns over noncitizen voting in his support against the Washington effort in January.
“Voting is a pillar of American democracy and a constitutional right that undeniably needs to be protected and preserved for citizens of this country,” he said in a statement.
“The D.C. Council’s reckless decision to allow non-U.S. citizens and illegal immigrants the right to vote in local elections is an attack on the foundation of this republic,” he added. “This move by the Council is irresponsible and will only exacerbate the ongoing border crisis, subvert the voices of American citizens, and open the door for foreign adversaries to peddle influence in our nation’s capital. It should go without saying: only Americans should have the power to influence local policy and guide their hard-earned taxpayer dollars to important initiatives.”
Arkansas Republican Sen. Tom Cotton also blasted the push, referring to noncitizen voting as an “insane” policy.
“Allowing illegal immigrants to vote is an insult to every voter in America. Every single Democrat should be on the record about whether they support this insane policy,” he wrote.
Texas Republican Sen. Ted Cruz has also expressed his concern over the issue, particularly in Washington. He introduced the January bill that is seeking to stop the noncitizen voting effort in the nation’s capital that was previously introduced in the last session of Congress.
“Allowing non-citizens, including aliens occupying our nation illegally, to exercise a right reserved for American citizens not only violates the constitutional principles our nation was founded upon, but also naively invites foreign meddling in our elections,” Cruz wrote in a statement. “Voting is a privilege and the tool by which American citizens exercise their say in who leads our country, how we spend our tax dollars, and what policies should be instituted. I am vehemently against unconstitutionally cheapening the votes of American citizens and ignoring the rule of law in this nation.”
In the same news release from the senator’s office, Louisiana Republican Sen. John Kennedy added his support to Cruz’s bill.
“No one earns the right to vote in American elections by entering and living in our country illegally. Congress has an obligation to uphold our Constitution, safeguard our elections and stop renegade policies like these from nullifying the vote and voice of American citizens,” he wrote.
The Future of the Left?
Despite conservative opposition, Democratic Party efforts to push noncitizen voting are expected to continue. In the case of Washington, D.C., even if Congress passes a ban, President Joe Biden is expected to veto the legislation. Conservatives are expected to also pursue legal means to block the law from going into effect if the congressional effort fails.
Other blue states have also pressed ahead with noncitizen voting efforts. For example, in Oakland, California, voters approved a charter amendment to the City Charter to allow noncitizen voting that was approved by 67% of the city’s voters.
Nearby San Francisco approved a similar amendment in 2016 that took effect in 2018. However, a 2022 legal ruling blocked the law from going forward, with Superior Court Judge Richard Ulmer Jr. ruling that the amendment violated the state’s constitution “reserves the right to vote to a United States citizen, contrary to (the) San Francisco ordinance.”
In Maryland, just north of the nation’s capital, the state constitution allows municipalities the authority to allow residents outside the state’s normal citizenship qualifications to vote without requiring state approval of such changes. At least 11 municipalities have pushed efforts to amend elections to include noncitizen voters, with Democrats leading the efforts.
New efforts have also arisen in Oregon. In Multnomah County, the Coalition of Communities of Color has supported the effort of noncitizen voting. Its rationale for the county’s noncitizen voting amendment states, “No matter where we are born, we all should have a voice in the community we call home. Voting is one of the most important tools to make our voices heard.”
The group adds:
Community members who are not citizens bring a diversity of perspectives that will help us address our community’s challenges and find policy solutions that work for all of us. We all want the best for our families and our futures, and voting is a path to create a stronger county. Immigrants who live here, send children to school here, and work and own businesses here contribute immensely to our county and deserve a voice.
The Oregon measure is also supported by ACLU of Oregon, Adelante Mujeres, APANO (Asian Pacific American Network of Oregon), the Center for Migration, Gender, and Justice and Multnomah County Commissioner Susheela Jayapal, among other groups.
The ACLU has supported various noncitizen voting efforts since at least 2018, when it sued Kansas over blocking noncitizen voting. In Pennsylvania, where 100,000 noncitizens were on voter rolls in 2018, with the alleged “glitch” reaching back in some cases to the 1990s.
J. Christian Adams, president and general counsel for the conservative Public Interest Legal Foundation, sued the state following the matter. Adams said PILF “hopes to finally get answers about the true scale of noncitizen voting in Pennsylvania and assist lawmakers in crafting reforms that fix it.”
In New York City, the group Our City, Our Vote has served as one of the movements behind the noncitizen voting effort. The specific push includes support for:
legislation that expands democracy in New York City so green card holders and those authorized to work in the United States can vote in elections for city-level offices as long as they have been a resident of New York City for at least 30 days and are otherwise qualified to register and vote under New York State election law.
The effort in the Big Apple includes a variety of leftist partners, such as the Council on American-Islamic Relations, New York (CAIR-NY), Demos, Lesbian and Gay Democratic Club of Queens and over two dozen other groups. Among those who signed an amicus brief in the noncitizen voting case siding with the effort are Mon Yuck Yu, on behalf of Academy of Medical & Public Health Services; Salma Allam, on behalf of Arab American Association of NY; Damaris Rostran, on behalf of Black Leadership and Action Coalition and Wayne Ho, on behalf of Chinese-American Planning Council.
What are the consequences of communities where noncitizen voting is allowed? The early evidence is limited but the likely outcome is more leftist influence at the city and school board level. The changes could seriously impact school-related issues such as the teaching of critical race theory, gender identity and LGBTQ+ issues in public schools and other hotly contested social issues.
American conservatives are right to oppose the changes, especially in cases like Washington, D.C., where noncitizen voters are only required to live for 30 days. The community’s future could be swayed by noncitizens who do not pay local taxes and have little history in the community, presenting long-term problems associated with the larger immigration concerns that have plagued the Biden administration.
Dillon Burroughs is a freelance writer and conservative author