Non-citizens voting in the U.S.

I just picked up my new visa this morning (3-year spousal. Don’t have to hide from the migra men again until 2006), which started me wondering about something.

In Japan, there are some areas in which permanent foreign residents (who are still non-citizens) are allowed to vote in local elections. Yokohama, Kawasaki, Kobe, Osaka, and a few others places all do this, though Tokyo does not (and probably won’t as long as the current governor has any say in the matter). Voting in national elections (or local elections for national-level offices) is still citizen-only. FWIW, becoming a permanent resident requires about 10 years of residency (or 5 as the spouse of a Japanese citizen).

In America, are there any towns, counties or states that allow someone who isn’t a citizen to vote? Or, conversely, is there any law (at the state or national level) that prohibits towns, counties or states from allowing it?

Note: whether non-citizens should or shouldn’t have any voting rights is a GD matter and not what I’m asking about.

Yes, there are places in America where noncitizens can vote. Takoma Park, Maryland is one. There are others (we’ve discussed this here before), but I can’t remember which off the top of my head. Obviously this would only be local elections, as the right to vote in federal elections is determined at a federal level.

FYI, it strikes me that the US is somewhat out of step with the rest of the western world in generally not allowing noncitizens to vote in any elections.

In the European Union I believe residents from other EU countries can vote in local elections.

Dunno about the rest of the EU but here in Ireland, residents from any country in the world can vote in local elections. Only residents from EU countries can vote in European elections, though.

No, indeed, the right to vote in any election is determined at the state level. States may delegate this power to local government if they wish, and if in fact non-citizen suffrage in Maryland is unique to Takoma Park, then obviously Maryland has done so.

The federal Constitution, to be sure, places certain restrictions on how states may regulate suffrage–for example, they may not deny suffrage on grounds of race or color (Fifteenth Amendment), sex (Nineteenth), failure to pay taxes (Twenty-Fourth), or age for anybody over the age of 18 (Twenty-Sixth). Also states cannot violate more general provisions such as the Due Process and Equal Protection clauses (Fourteenth). Beyond that, states may do as they wish.

Granted, there isn’t too much “beyond that” after all of the restrictions I just listed. But voting rights for non-citizens and felons do vary from state to state. I don’t pretend to know how widespread non-citizen suffrage is; I do know that it was once more common than today and was often a source of friction between urban political machines (built on the immigrant vote) and rural nativists.

In the past, full citizenship was a prerequisite for voting. Tammany Hall’s Boss Tweed reportedly would naturalize Irish immigrants as citizens almost as soon as they got off the boat in order to boost the number of Democratic voters in the state.

Sometimes yes, sometimes no. If Boss Tweed was doing that in New York, then it was a prerequisite at that time and place.

Here is a story about a proposal to allow non-citizens to vote in Cambridge, Massachusetts. It states the following:

Not the most authoritative cite, but it jibes with what I’ve read elsewhere.

There may be laws against non-citizens voting, but they are rarely enforced. My ex was a Canadian, and she voted in every election, including the 1992 presidential election. A special investigator with the California Secretary of State’s office completed an investigation, and recommended to the Los Angeles DA that she be prosecuted for voter fraud. The DA declined to prosecute, even though the case was well researched and documented.

The Los Angeles District Attorney’s office has never prosecuted a voter fraud case. Ever. This was documented in a 1995 article in the Wall Street Journal, but I don’t have a link.

How is being a citizen checked in US voter registration anyway? I asked some American friends about this years ago, and they said you turned up at a registration office, showed some kind of ID (the usual forms of ID not stating citizenship status), and that your social security number was entered into a computer with your other data. Is there a database of citizenship status by social security number somewhere?

Thanks for the correction, jklann.

This is all very interesting, thank you for the responses.

I was under the impression only citizens had social security numbers.

No, you can get one with certain types of US visas (including temporary work and immigrant visas) as well.

There is also a ‘Taxpayer Identification Number’ that non-citizens who work or invest in America receive for filing their tax returns, which fills more or less the same role as a Social Security Number.

In the late 1800’s there were ten or so states that permitted male aliens to vote if they declared their intention to become citizens. It became routine for large numbers of Mexican citizens to be encouraged to cross into Texas solely to vote.

Yepp. EU legislation provides that every EU citizen (a European Union citizenship has actually been created) has the right to vote in local elections of the community he lives in, as well as European Parliament elections in the member nation he’s in.

And in Britain additional to the EU voting rights, all citizens of the Commonwealth resident in Britain and all Irish citizens resident in Britain may vote in any election!

I am a non-citizen, in the US on an H-1B visa. I have a Social Security Number. Ditto my wife, also H-1B. My children, however, have Taxpayer Identification Numbers as they cannot work.

I live in Chicago and I know a lot of resident aliens that vote. They just register. Ironically I have lived in the same apt for 9 years and I can only think of two elections where I voted (I vote in even the little city elections and primaries) where a Republican HASN’T challenged me. (my right to vote)

Social Security Online:
Lawfully Admitted Aliens — When You Need a Number and When You Don’t

In my state, you are asked on the voter registration form if you are a citizen of the United States. It works on the honor system — there is no national database of citizens and non-citizens. And my state does not ask a voter for the voter’s Social Security number on the registration form.

If the vote is close in an election district and requires a recount, the various political candidates may ask to see that district’s voter registration forms, to look for people who may be ineligible to vote (aliens, felons, non-residents of the voting district).