Non-citizen Voting in D.C. Includes Unauthorized Migrants Here 30 Days


The final approval on Oct. 19 by the District Council to allow and encourage all non-citizens to vote in local elections, who have resided in the District for just 30 days or more — including migrants without authorization (aka “illegal” or “undocumented” migrants) — is historic. It also goes too far in the opinion of many, including the Washington Post editorial board, many citizens and, especially, naturalized citizens.

Anyone who attends a naturalization ceremony is almost overwhelmed with the joy of the new citizens, noted the Washington Post in an Oct. 18 editorial. They swear to be loyal to the United States. They swear off allegiances to any “foreign potentates” and their interests. One of the first things most new citizens do is register to vote as they leave the swearing-in ceremony. “My parents became citizens so that they could vote,” Harry Medrano a lifetime D.C. resident told The Georgetowner at the waterfront on Sunday. He echoed what many others have said in objecting to a law that allows non-citizens to vote, even in local elections.

“This newspaper has opposed efforts over the past decade to rewrite the election code so green-card holders could vote,” stated the Washington Post editorial. President Bill Clinton signed a law in 1996 that bans non-citizens from voting in federal contests. But a few communities like Tacoma Park, Maryland, has allowed permanent legal residents (aka green card holders) to vote in local elections. Even that was declared unconstitutional in New York State when New York City tried to pass such a law. But D.C. has informally allowed it.

“The intent is to give people, whether they are citizens or not, more say over their lives,” said Juan Ulloa, a board members of the DC Latino Caucus. “Non citizens here pay taxes, contribute to the economy and our way of life. Yet the decisions being made on the money they have no say on it.”

“We decided the right to vote should be expanded,” Ward 2 Council member Brooke Pinto told the Georgetowner. Some 50,000 non-citizens would be eligible in DC. But that doesn’t count recent arrivals. It may, however, include foreign students, visiting scholars and businessmen and the like who are temporarily residing in the District. “I doubt few would vote,” said Pinto, “even if they had the right to.”

So questions abound. Many elections include local and federal contests. How in our messy registration and voter system would any community distinguish between the non-citizen and the citizen voter at the ballot box?  Even the U.S. census is not allowed to collect information about how many citizens live in a district (only foreign born are counted).

Ward 3 Council member Mary Cheh, the only elected official to vote against the bill, expressed concerns that new arrivals should be eligible to vote after only 30 days. It can be asked how many taxes such recent arrivals have paid? How much could they know about local issues in order to cast a vote rooted in attachment and engagement in issues where tax payer money is to be committed?

“Such questions are rooted in xenophobia and racism,” said Abel Amene Metro DC Democratic Socialists of America.

“Some progressives hope that reshaping the electorate will allow them to reshape local politics, prodding the city further to the left on issues such as rent control and spending on social programs,” wrote the Washington Post. “Sponsors of the bill are rushing to get it enacted so the 30-day review period for Congress to overturn the law will expire before the Republicans likely takeover the House in January,” the Washington Post editorial claimed.

But it’s dangerous calculation. Two weeks before the 2022 General Election, Mayor Muriel Bowser hasn’t signed the bill. Republican senators are preparing a bill to deny federal funds to any city or state that allows non-citizens to vote. It could set D.C. statehood and other issues requiring bipartisan support back years.

It would be better to support more migrants to come in legally on green cards, to become citizens after five years so they can vote (no one is required to become a citizen and there is no automatic citizenship for anyone not born in the country; still, currently the majority of green card holders do not become citizens or may wait decades to do so). Making legal entry, getting a green card and perhaps even citizenship easier and legally may be the solution. But that would require Congress to pass a bipartisan law.

 

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