Non-citizens and voting rights: a conundrum

I was initially angry to read an article in the New York Post titled ‘New bill could give illegal aliens voting rights in New York City‘.  Here’s an excerpt.

New legislation is being pushed that would give illegal aliens the right to vote in New York City’s 2017 elections for mayor, comptroller, public advocate, borough president and City Council, The Post has learned.

The proposal — which is winning support from the city’s black and Hispanic activists — was recently discussed at a Black and Latino Legislative Caucus event in Albany.

There’s more at the link.

This seems ridiculous to me.  After all, illegal aliens are, by definition, criminals.  Their very presence in New York City is a crime;  so why would anyone trust, or want, a criminal to vote for the office-holders that would influence his or her arrest and/or trial and/or punishment for their crime?

However, on further research, it turns out that voting rights are a murky area in US history.  For example, according to Wikipedia, the last state to ban non-citizens from voting (Arkansas) did so as late as 1926.  Prior to that, there are numerous examples where non-citizens were admitted to the franchise, some local, some state-wide, some even in national elections.  Furthermore, the Atlantic has an in-depth examination of the Constitutional issues surrounding voting, and comes to some interesting conclusions.  For example:

… courts and citizens remain oddly ambivalent about it; it is common to regard voting as a “privilege,” an incident of citizenship granted to some but not all. The “privilege” over the years has been made dependent on literacy, or long residency in a community, or ability to prove identity, or lack of a criminal past. None of these conditions would be allowed to restrict free speech, or freedom from “unreasonable” searches, or the right to counsel, even though each of those rights is mentioned once in the Constitution. The right to vote of citizens of the United States remains a kind of stepchild in the family of American rights, perhaps because it is not listed in the Bill of Rights, and perhaps because Americans still retain the Framers’ ambivalence about democracy.

Again, more at the link.

I find the argument frustrating, because I don’t want to agree with it:  but I’m forced to admit on a purely logical basis that if the right to vote can be and has been taken away from US citizens on various grounds, why should it not be extended to others – even non-citizens – on other grounds?  If that’s done by legal means, passed by those elected to express the ‘will of the people’ . . . where do we stand?

Perhaps this is an issue best pursued as an amendment to the Constitution.  Perhaps it’s time to finally nail down precisely who is eligible to vote in the USA, so that efforts such as that in New York City can be scuppered before they start.  Why not agree on a common standard – and why did the Founding Fathers not do so at the beginning of our Republic?  Please let us know your thoughts in Comments.



  1. As I understand it, generally the ability to vote was limited to white male land-owners. Citizenship didn't enter into it because during the original debates, no one was a citizen. We had yet to define that term.

    They've loosened those restrictions quite a bit. One of the questions we ask re-enactors at historical events is "Who did your wife vote for in the last election?". The proper response is a shocked look, because everyone knows that women can't vote.

  2. Frustrating is right. Lynch is onboard with this effort too. Ironically, this is typical of the democrats, who pander to the illegal immigrants and other 'disenfranchised' minorities, who contribute to their voting base. I think there SHOULD be a standard that says you are a citizen of the United States, in good standing, and have a legally issued ID you can show to vote. Seems that India (many millions more poor than here), can accomplish that without a problem. I can't help but wonder how the administration would react if those 'disenfranchised' voted Republican???

  3. If voting made a damned bit of difference do you really think they would let any of us near a polling place , much less actually vote ?

  4. Voting is a privilege, not a right that is inherent and universal to any human being (regardless of your perception as to the source of rights). No one objects to people of France not being permitted to vote in the "wine country" of California, or vice versa, nor is anyone's human/civil rights being violated by such a presumptive electoral standard. A particular governing entity (nation, state, county, shire, etc) has the responsibility for determining who is granted the privilege of exercising the franchise to vote within its boundaries. If we in the USA want to stipulate a national standard for exercising the electoral franchise, I suspect the US Constitutional amendment process is the only mechanism that will achieve that goal throughout all electoral jurisdictions within the country. And even then, would likely not extend to "private" organizations like corporations, churches and Free Masons for example.

    No one has a "right" to vote in the sense human and civil rights are usually spoken of in constitutional terms. I agree that exercising your opportunity of electoral franchise is a legitimate metric for determining status of citizenship when such is available to a given individual. Policing such a qualification would be fraught with abuse if historical examples of vote qualification are any guide.

  5. There were never official uniform standards: Some states and at some times restricted the franchise by race, sex, property ownership, literacy, length of residency—even today, loss of voting privileges often come with felony convictions. It’s not the business of the Federal government to decide, except for correcting abuses (Amendments 15, 19, & 26).

    Is requiring citizenship a good idea? I think so; but I also think it’ll require a Constitutional Amendment.

  6. I've read that in some of the original colonies (and maybe states, later) voting was limited to property owners, since other folks were considered to have "no skin in the game", as we now say. If so, I think it should have been left that way, since the poor invariably try to vote themselves the property of the better off, leaving them (the poor) with no incentive to better themselves on their own.

  7. Yep, ironically the lack of direct Constitutional definition that allowed voting to be limited to certain classes of citizens also opens the door to people other than citizens voting. Sure, we have a number of amendments specifying that the right of a certain group to vote cannot be abridged by their membership in that group but that doesn't rule out non-citizens.

    It's tough, often there's a move to go with "what were the founding fathers thinking here" but in this case it's clear that they were a bunch of elitist pricks. Not by the standards of their day, of course, but certainly when seen through a modern lens. So what do we have to go off of?

  8. The Constitution doesn't mention voting because it was an agreement amongst states that created the federal government it was not an agreement by "we the people" to use the preamble's phrase. The determinants of voting requirements were left to the states, which are sovereign in this matter. (See Article 1 Section 3 about elections of Senators. It took a constitutional amendment to change that.) The diminution of regional and state (legislative) power to the benefit of centralized federal power was a major factor in the civil war. This every human is equal and rights come from the government (and not the government powers come from the consent of the governed) is an extension of that Rousseau view that led to the jacobins, the terror and all the rest. I don't see to many folks looking forward to the tyranny of the majority though that is the direction we are headed, especially due to short signing and ignorant legislation like this.

  9. I've had resident visas from a bunch of countries stapled into my passport at different times, and I couldn't vote in any of them while I lived there. On the one hand, it forced me to find ways to maximize my civic engagement and influence without voting.
    On the other hand, I was conscious that I had chosen to live there, could just as easily chose not to, had no long-term cultural, familial, or economic commitments-to or dependence-upon the community.
    It doesn't seem quite fair to come into a place, participate in voting in my desired flavor of curruptocrat, and then leave when it doesn't turn out so good. So even in the US where I am now able to almost immediately begin voting upon changing domicile to a new region/state/town, I tend NOT to vote in local elections until I've been there long enough to know the local politics.

  10. Voting is not a privilege, nor a right, it's a solemn duty of every adult citizen even if not enforced. Non-citizens cannot vote!

  11. Do the US have any sort of reciprocity treaty WRT voting rights? Also, wouldn't it be good to have a federal standard for federal elections?

    Take care.

  12. To not restrict voting to only those who are legally a resident of the defined area that the voting is targeted for, and who will be directly effected by the results, is to demolish the purpose of voting itself.

    At a minimum, no one should vote on any subject that they do not have a direct financial stake in. Voting on a property tax assessment for the local library? The owner gets one vote per property.

    Frankly, I think we should go back to the original voting set up, essentially. One where females (basically the wife) don't vote. As a group, they have been found to automatically vote for socialistic programs. When you have half of your voting pool leaning toward that type of political system, a nation is basically doomed, it's just a matter of time.

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