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Obama’s Amnesty Plan: A Step to Non-Citizen Voting

Liz | Wednesday, November 19, 2014 - 1:21 pm

President Obama has vowed to grant amnesty to millions of undocumented immigrants. How soon before they will be allowed to vote? Not going to happen, you say? Think again.
Some on the right accuse Democrats of wanting to stack the deck in their favor by opening our doors to millions of mostly Hispanic immigrants living in the U.S. illegally. The reasoning is simple: Latinos have mainly voted Democrat in the past, and if President Obama unilaterally grants legal status to a large group already living here, their loyalty will be locked up. Ultimately, those Hispanics will become citizens, and could well determine our future politics.

That logic has been dismissed by Obama backers. They argue that even if the president proceeds with his controversial measure, no one is proposing creating a path to citizenship for the millions now living in the shadows. Rather, they will be granted some sort of legal status. However, that designation alone could become a pathway to voting.

Related: Obama on Immigration—How He can Foul it Up

Consider a measure recently proposed by Daniel Dromm, a member of New York’s City Council. Mr. Dromm is expected to introduce a bill early next year that would permit people who are not citizens, but who live in the U.S. legally, to vote in local elections. This proposal has wandered progressive corridors in New York for years, but only now, as the city’s government has become more left-leaning, has it become a headliner. Analysts estimate that the change could allow as many as 800,000 legal residents to cast a vote in future city elections.

The Dromm proposal is not a one-off. Takoma Park, Maryland, passed legislation in 1992 allowing non-citizens to vote in local political contests; five other municipalities in that state have followed suit. In Chicago, all legal residents can vote in school board elections. In recent years, local governments in Massachusetts, Maine, Connecticut, Texas, Illinois and Vermont have passed or considered allowing non- citizens to vote in certain elections, arguing that immigrant populations would become more integrated into their communities if allowed to take part in the democratic process.

Such thinking is not new in our country. Indeed, during the 1800s, some twenty-two states and territories allowed aliens to vote, mostly in a bid to attract new residents. This practice died out in the 1920s, but has recently regained momentum. Last month, the city council of Burlington, Vermont, approved measures supporting non-citizens’ rights to vote in local elections and serve on city boards. The move still faces a lengthy approval process, including the amendment of Vermont’s constitution; it has been rejected twice in the past. Still, sponsors point out that Burlington moved the state’s legislature to decriminalize marijuana, and may well again lead the state in progressive change.

Related: Obama to Move Ahead with Immigration Action Despite GOP Threats

In azure-blue California, non-citizens have recently procured numerous rights, including the ability to procure drivers’ licenses and to practice law, even if living in the state illegally, as well as restrictions on their detention for immigration violations. Legal permanent residents are now allowed to act as poll monitors. Last year, California’s legislature became the first in the country to pass a bill allowing legal aliens to serve on juries. That one was vetoed by Governor Jerry Brown, who said “Jury service, like voting, is quintessentially a prerogative and responsibility of citizenship.” Most recently, Governor Brown signed a measure requiring California’s 40 licensing boards to accept professional applicants by 2016 regardless of legal status.

Advocates who endorse non-citizen voting point out that in certain jurisdictions, as much as half the adult population is prohibited from voting because they are noncitizens. In California, the number is estimated at 20 percent; in New York City, perhaps 22 percent. Further, they point out that the Constitution does not bar the practice, which has been upheld in the past by the Supreme Court. Beyond that, they argue the fairness of providing representation to legal residents, and note that allowing such people to vote is commonplace in a number of European countries and in many others around the globe.

Such arguments may begin to encourage the breaking down of existing voter restrictions. After all, we already extend a growing number of benefits and opportunities to people living in the U.S. without papers. For many, it is an easy leap to imagine New York or other large cities expanding voter rights to non-citizens who are here legally; the practice could well gain broader acceptance. Before long, we might be talking about allowing non-citizens to vote in state-wide elections. Then, who knows?

Related: Obama’s Nothing Left to Lose Strategy—3 Moves that Enrage the GOPpage1image40272 page1image40432 page1image40592 page1image40752 page1image40912

Meanwhile, many on the right argue that non-citizen voting, while illegal in most jurisdictions, is already rampant in the United States. The 1993 National Voter Registration Act made registering to vote extremely simple. As the Justice Department explains, under that law, “Each State must include a voter registration form as part of an application for a State driver’s license and any application for driver’s license renewal.” Though it states on the form that you must be a citizen, there is no evidence that the information is verified. As more states have made licenses available to non-citizens, a rise in the number voting illegally seems likely.

Indeed, a paper written by Jesse Richmond and David Earnest, two professors at Old Dominion University, based on wide-ranging sampling data, states, “More than 14 percent of non-citizens in both the 2008 and 2010 samples indicated that they were registered to vote.” Moreover, the two conclude, “Our best guess…. is that 6.4 percent of non-citizens voted in 2008 and 2.2 percent of non-citizens voted in 2010.” Since they find that over 80 percent of the sample would have voted for President Obama, they conclude that illegal voting may have given Al Franken his win in Minnesota, and, since other close races could have been similarly determined, allowed passage of Obamacare.

Republicans are pushing controversial voter ID requirements in numerous states to counter such possible fraud. The professors note that such a requirement was not a deterrent. Three-quarters of those asked to provide a picture ID did so, and subsequently voted. More effective, they say, would be to better educate the public, since most of those voting illegally professed not to understand the restrictions.

The GOP is focused on trying to eliminate people voting illegally, but that issue pales next to the movement underway to make such voting perfectly legal. A change in voting rights for the country’s 13 million legal residents could prove a much greater challenge than occasional fraud in years to come. Of course, the best and most enduring approach is to convince citizens and non-citizens alike that the GOP has a winning platform for growth and opportunity. The country is ready.

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