Should Non-Citizens Be Allowed to Vote?

I live in an amazing, diverse community. There are people here from all over the world ranging from Mexico to Canada, Ireland to Kenya. We’re also an active community, with many of my neighbors attending city council meetings and spending their free time informing the neighborhood of issues that directly affect us.

When election time comes, the one thing many in my community don’t do is vote. These very involved and informed long-term legal residents, some of whom have lived here for more than 30 years, are not citizens and, therefore, do not have the right to vote.

Voting is generally a right (within parameters set by governing bodies) of a nation’s citizens. You may be surprised to learn, however, that in the United States, we don’t have a constitutional right to participate. While our Constitution prohibits denying citizens suffrage on varying factors (i.e., birth – 14th Amendment, race – 15th Amendment, or gender – 19th Amendment), there is no explicit amendment granting American citizens the right to vote and individual states are allowed to make up their own rules.

We know how well that’s worked out (Voting Rights Act, anyone?).

On May 9, 2013, New York City’s Committees on Governmental Operations and Immigration held a hearing to consider a local law that would allow non-citizens, legally residing in New York City, to vote in city elections. This law would create a new category of voters called “municipality voters,” allowing them to have a voice regarding local issues. This isn’t new for New York City. Starting in 1970, non-citizens were permitted to vote in school board elections, until school boards were eliminated in 2003. There was also an attempt to restore non-citizen voting rights in 2005.

Our nation has had a history of allowing non-citizens to vote. It was believed by our early framers that allowing recent immigrants to participate in this new thing called democracy would encourage them to become Americans and help propel the nascent nation forward. They were right. In his 2006 book, Democracy for All: Restoring Immigrant Voting Rights in the United States, Ron Hayduk chronicles the history of immigrant voting in the United States. During the first 150 years of our nation’s history (1776-1926), more than 20 states allowed non-citizens to vote in local, state and federal elections. Granted, these non-citizens still had to be white, male, and property owners…but they were allowed to participate.

As the voting population became less male and less white, efforts to limit who could vote ramped up. It wasn’t difficult to eliminate voting for non-citizens. In recent years, political forces have been working diligently to reduce the number of actual citizens who can vote by making it harder for them to do so (voter ID laws, anyone?).

I’m sure it’s a coincidence that these citizens happen to be largely minority, female, or elderly.

Voting is mainly a state issue, but federal laws do limit what states can do. The Illegal Immigration Reform and Immigrant Responsibility Act of 1996 made it a federal crime for a non-citizen to vote in a federal election. It further limited non-citizens’ participation by prohibiting those without a green card to donate to any candidate campaigning for political office.

Currently, Chicago allows non-citizens who are here legally to vote in local school board elections. Maryland also has six municipalities that allow similar participation. As of the writing of this article, the committee in New York City has “laid over” the discussion on the proposed bill. It should be noted that Mayor Bloomberg does not support it.

I can understand wanting to limit the right to vote to the nation’s citizenry. In a country that essentially just requires you to take a test (and wait several years and come up with several thousand dollars), to be an American, there’s something to be said for having something just for…us. Still, I think about my neighbors. They are active, contributing members of our community, pay taxes and own businesses. Yet, they are unable to have a say in their representation or on the issues that affect them directly.

This doesn’t seem fair.

According to the committee report of the New York City Governmental Affairs Division, allowing non-citizens to vote would allow approximately 1.5 million New York City residents, who contribute approximately $18.2 million in taxes annually, to have a say in local elections. It is estimated that as of 2011, the legal permanent resident population in the United States was more than 13 million.

If just one vote can make a difference, can you imagine what 13 million more could do?


Jim Ven
Jim V1 years ago

thanks for the article.

Jose L.
Jose L.4 years ago

Uruguay allows anyone to be a citizen.

Or consider, "under which conditions should a person born in Wyoming be allowed to vote in elections in Kentucky?" Should there be a 15 year waiting period? What should be the conditions if any for a person born in one state to vote in elections in another state. How about in a different city than where you were born?

No matter where a person is born (eg, a colony on the moon), they all want the same basic things from their government. Are you any greater or lesser depending on where the stork dropped you off at birth?

My view is that there should be a non trivial process but it should be within practical reach of virtually anyone who wants it.

[This model works great on an international basis (suggests peace and respect to all people based on what you do not where you were born) if most governments around the world were similar. Obviously if your government stinks, this will increase the odds you will want to go live somewhere better and contribute to a community that will respect you. If only a few governments are neat, that would draw a lot of people. Surveys worldwide imply irc that if they could afford to come here up to perhaps one to two hundred million people would want to come to live in the US. We have plenty of land for that and the economy would ultimately grow a lot, but we don't have the required infrastructure built up to just jump to that size. ..And that hypothetical would never happen.]

To some of those w

Amanda S.
Amanda S4 years ago

NO! How ludacrous. As an American citizen who thinks that I'd be able to vote in a Canadian, Indian, or Mexican election? Ummm, no. Don't be ridiculous.

Laurie Reynolds
Laurie Reynolds4 years ago


B Jackson
BJ J4 years ago


N R C4 years ago


Susan T.
Susan T4 years ago

@ Paul B 9:09 am 5/28 "No citizenship, no vote. Name a country anywhere that allows non-citizens to VOTE!!!"

You are consistent - as I have pointed out before - consistently WRONG. Really you should try doing a little research for a change instead of just stating your opinion as fact.

"In a few cases, countries grant voting rights to citizens and non-citizens alike....
Local rights, nondiscriminatory (Denmark after 1980, Finland after 1990, Hungary, Ireland 1963 to 1984, the Netherlands after 1981, Norway after 1981, Spain after 1985, Sweden after 1976).
National rights, nondiscriminatory (New Zealand after 1975; Uruguay for 15 years-resident, since 1952)"

(Read the overview paragraph.) Basically, non citizens who are long term residents of New Zealand and Uruguay are eligible to vote.

Sarah Hill
Sarah Hill4 years ago

Definitely NOT!!!! If they want to vote, then they can get their citizenship.

Diana S.
Diana S4 years ago

ABSOLUTELY NOT!!! Only an individual with full citizenship (and, hopefully, the civics and history lessons to back it up) is entitled to the privilege and responsibility of voting.

California is now talking about making driver's licenses available to illegals; our legislators do whatever the hell they - or the lobbyists who line their pockets - want, completely disregarding the wishes of their constituents! The only way CITIZENS will ever have a chance to control their idiot legislators, and have a compelling voice in their own governance, is to keep the vote to citizens only!

Lynn Squance
Lynn Squance4 years ago

@ Dale O and Mary B --- To my knowledge, foreigners are not barred from buying property in the US. Here in Metro Vancouver, US realtors regularly advertise properties in Point Roberts WA and other areas of WA. I have friends who own several properties in Nevada etc. In fact, they became very active in the real estate market when the housing prices bottomed out. As a mortgage manager, I can tell you that Americans buy many, many Canadian properties right across the country. The one catch is financing. If you need financing, the financing must be completed in the country where the property is located.

As far as voting, I know with Canadians, in order to vote in Canadian elections, there is a residency requirement of 6 months each year. However, Harper is looking at reducing that to 4 months I believe to accommodate snowbirds. Do I think that non citizens should be able to vote? I would say yes if non citizens are working in the US and paying US taxes.