Most people assume that in order to vote in the United States a person must be a citizen of the United States. However, that isn’t always the case. Federal law requires citizenship in order to vote in a federal election but the law does not apply to state and local elections. Unless a state’s constitution specifically states that only citizens can vote, the possibility of non-citizens legally voting exists.
Cities in Maryland, and California now allow non-citizens to vote in municipal and school board elections because the constitutions in these states are written in such a way to allow cities to determine voter eligibility. Only the constitutions of Alabama, Arizona, Colorado, Florida, Minnesota, and North Dakota state that only citizens of the United States are allowed to vote in elections. Every other state is vulnerable to cities allowing non-citizens to vote.
WHY IS CITIZEN VOTING IMPORTANT?
Voting is a fundamental right of citizenship, and four amendments to the Constitution specifically recognize and protect this right, guaranteeing it to citizens of all races and genders and economic means:
15th Amendment: “The right of citizens of the United States to vote shall not be denied or abridged by the United States or by any State on account of race, color or previous condition of servitude.”
19th Amendment: “The right of citizens of the United States to vote shall not be denied or abridged by the United States or by any State on account of sex.”
24th Amendment: “The right of citizens of the United States to vote in any primary or other election for President or Vice President, for electors for President or Vice President, or for Senator or Representative in Congress, shall not be denied or abridged by the United States or any State by reason of failure to pay any poll tax or other tax.”
26th Amendment: “The right of citizens of the United States, who are 18 years of age or older, to vote shall not be denied or abridged by the United States or any state on account of age.”
The Constitution never extends this right to noncitizens. Yet in places such as San Francisco and 11 cities in Maryland, noncitizens are voting in local elections. And in San Francisco, those residing here illegally are also being given the vote.
Legislation has been introduced to allow non-citizens to vote in California, Connecticut, Maine, Maryland, Massachusetts, Minnesota, New York and Texas. It’s being considered locally in cities such as Boston, New York City, Portland, Maine, Los Angeles and Washington, D.C.
A plain reading of the U.S. Constitution and the states’ constitutions leads most people to assume that only citizens can vote but a handful of activist city councils have made it necessary to amend state constitutions to more clearly define voter eligibility. More activist cities will choose to allow non-citizens to vote unless action is taken now.
This is why in the last three years, voters in four states — Alabama (77%), Colorado (63%), Florida (79%) and North Dakota (66%) — have put clear citizen-only voting provisions into their state constitutions.