News & History

Noncitizens allowed to vote in some local elections, spurring backlash from GOP

Signs at a voting site in New York. | Shutterstock

By ZACHARY ROTH | States Newsroom

A few cities and towns around the U.S. are letting noncitizens vote in local elections, and more could follow. In response, Republicans see a chance to turn opposition to noncitizen voting into a national rallying cry.

On March 14, Washington, D.C., became the latest city to approve noncitizen voting, when a bill allowing the District’s roughly 42,000 noncitizens, including those who are undocumented, to vote in municipal elections became law after a bid by congressional Republicans to overturn it fell short. 

A day earlier, a group of prominent conservative voting activists held a press conference in the capital to promote what they called a national campaign to “protect voting at all levels of government as the exclusive right of citizens.”

Republicans also have introduced legislation in Congress that would withhold election funding to states where local governments have enfranchised noncitizens. And a separate GOP measure would amend the Constitution to ban the practice. 

This crusade is designed in part to push back against efforts to give noncitizens the right to vote, an idea that generally polls badly with most voters. But it could also reinforce a broader set of fears, stoked in recent years by former President Donald Trump and other party leaders, that American elections are threatened by illegal voters. 

The District of Columbia isn’t alone in embracing noncitizen voting. In January, the Vermont Supreme Court greenlit the practice for two Vermont cities, including the state capital, Montpelier, rejecting a Republican lawsuit. 

And on March 9, the state’s largest city, Burlington, voted to allow noncitizen voting, though the state legislature still needs to approve the change. Since 2016, San Francisco has let noncitizens vote in school board elections. Eleven Maryland towns also enfranchise noncitizens, the most recent in 2018. 

Other cities, including Boston and Los Angeles, have seen efforts to do the same in the last few years. In 2021, New York City passed a bill that would have allowed by far the largest single number of noncitizens to vote, but it was struck down by a court as unconstitutional last year, after another GOP lawsuit. Appeals are ongoing.

A Democratic state lawmaker in Connecticut has introduced a bill to allow noncitizens to vote in state elections, though he has said he knows it won’t pass, and the goal is simply to spark debate.

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