Should noncitizens be granted voting rights?

“The 360” shows you diverse perspectives on the day’s top stories and debates.

What’s happening

New York City became the largest city in the country to grant noncitizens voting rights when the City Council on Thursday approved a measure that would allow as many as 800,000 legal residents to vote in local elections.

Starting in January 2023, any New York resident with a green card or legal right to work in the city will be eligible to cast a ballot in races for mayor, city council and other citywide offices. They are still barred from voting in state or federal elections.

Noncitizen voting was widespread throughout the U.S. in the years after the nation’s founding, though voting rights were extended only to white, land-owning men at the time. Over time, the practice was gradually rolled back. By the mid-1920s, no state allowed noncitizens to vote. In 1996, Congress made it illegal for a noncitizen to vote in a federal election.

When it’s new law goes into effect, New York will be by far the largest city to have noncitizen voting in all citywide races. Some big cities, like San Francisco and Chicago, allow noncitizens to vote, but only in local school elections. Currently only a handful of small municipalities in the U.S. — 11 in Maryland and two in Vermont— grant noncitizens full voting rights for local contests. At least 45 other countries allow noncitizens to vote in some, and in some cases all, elections.

Why there’s debate

Advocates for noncitizen voting rights hope that their victory in the nation’s largest city will be a breakthrough that spurs a similar movement in cities across the country. They argue that it’s immoral to deny people who work, raise families and pay taxes in a community the right to have a say in decisions that affect them just as much as their neighbors.

Backers also say that noncitizens voting would bring important issues that currently don’t get the attention they deserve into the center of the political debate. These backers also make the case that permitting immigrants to participate in American democracy will help them become “more interested and engaged” in the communities in which they live.

Critics say giving voting rights to noncitizens would dilute one of the core things that makes being an American citizen special. Many conservatives also argue that the push for noncitizen voting rights is a cynical play by Democrats to expand their voter base, as the party takes more pro-immigration stances than Republicans.

What’s next

The upcoming action is all on the local level. Several more municipalities — including cities in Illinois, Maine and Massachusetts — are considering noncitizen voting in the near future. Conservative lawmakers have also launched an effort to head off a potential expansion of noncitizen voting. Florida, Colorado and Alabama all passed ballot measures last year limiting voting only to citizens.



It’s unfair to deny people a say in elections that have a major impact on their lives

“On the face of it, noncitizen voting is a matter of basic fairness. People who live, work and pay taxes in our communities should have a say in how they are governed.” — Tali Farhadian Weinstein, NBC News

Noncitizen voting will force candidates to consider a broader set of issues

“The West’s resident foreigner communities are diverse. They include both indigent refugees and highly compensated expats, construction workers and software engineers, taxi drivers and bestselling authors. The political agendas they could advocate if they had a voice, and a vote, would include a correspondingly broad range of issues.” — Leonid Bershidsky, Bloomberg

Noncitizens will become more invested in their communities

“Allowing people to vote gives them even more of a sense of investment in their towns, cities, communities and country. There’s a detachment that comes with not being able to vote in the place where you live. Concerns about mixed loyalties, meanwhile, are misplaced.” — Atossa Araxia Abrahamian, New York Times

Noncitizen voting is an opportunity to counter attacks on voting rights

“Indeed, this celebration of democracy by expanding the right to vote is even more important now, after a raucous primary season and when reactionary forces in places like Georgia and Texas are trying to chip away at this precious right.” — Murad Awawdeh, Daily News

Places that enact noncitizen voting have been shown to benefit

“You can move to Ireland and in six months vote in national elections. And they’ve seen, you know, a significant turnout to good effect. There’s a number of studies that have shown how when immigrants participate, there’s increases in and improvements in education policy and outcomes.” — Ron Hayduk, voting rights historian, The Nation


Noncitizen voting rights would dilute the special bond citizens have with this country

“Voting in a modern democracy is tied to citizenship and the duties and rights that attend it, which is why the franchise is generally limited to those people who have established, either by birth or oath, a deep connection to the nation. Authorizing noncitizen voting would devalue citizenship, a bedrock of American life.” — Seth Barron, City Journal

Democrats are trying to expand their voter base to tip elections in their favor

Non-citizen voting is the latest push by progressives — along with felon voting and mass amnesty — who fear that they cannot win elections conducted only among law-abiding American citizens.” — Editorial, National Review

One of the main arguments raised by supporters is illogical

“The taxation argument isn’t persuasive. Nonresidents with second homes or apartments in the city pay property taxes, and they certainly have an interest in public services like police, fire and garbage collection. International students live in New York, and they might pay taxes of all kinds, or at least sales taxes on whatever they buy. Does that mean they should get to vote in local races? The obvious answer is no.” — Editorial, Wall Street Journal

Noncitizen voting rights should start small

“The expansion of the franchise should be narrow. It should be for school board elections only, and it could be restricted to legal permanent residents with children in the system. Let’s try it and see what happens.” — Nicholas Goldberg, Los Angeles Times

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Photo illustration: Yahoo News; photos: Getty Images