UPDATE: The Senate has until March 14 to take up the noncitizen voting law or else it’ll go into effect; the crime bill will go into effect if the Senate doesn’t take action by April 26.
WASHINGTON, D.C. — On Thursday, Feb. 9, the U.S. House of Representatives passed Republican-led resolutions to overturn two Washington, D.C. city council bills, including one that permitted noncitizen residents to vote in local elections. House Joint Resolution 24, which disapproves the Local Resident Voting Rights Amendment Act of 2022, passed the House 260 to 162, with 42 Democrats joining Republicans. The Republican-led resolution is unlikely to go into effect as it now heads to the Democratic-controlled Senate and would also need to be signed by President Joe Biden.
The Local Resident Voting Rights Amendment Act would allow all residents over 18, regardless of whether they had legal permission to enter the country as long as they have lived in the district for 30 days, to vote in local elections only. Qualified noncitizen residents could vote in district races for mayor, council, attorney general, advisory neighborhood commissioners and more, but they could not vote in federal elections.
Laws that expand voting rights to certain noncitizens are often inaccurately characterized by opponents, either in defining which noncitizens can vote or in what type of elections. While only U.S. citizens can vote in federal elections, a handful of cities and towns have proactively allowed permanent, noncitizen residents to vote in local elections, sparking swift backlash from right-wing groups often fueled by anti-immigrant sentiment. Notably, New York City passed such a law last year, which is currently in litigation. In early January 2023, the Vermont Supreme Court upheld a statute allowing noncitizen legal residents in Montpelier, Vermont to vote in the small capital city’s local elections. The D.C. council bill goes a step further than any other jurisdiction, also permitting undocumented residents to vote as long as they have lived in the district for 30 days.
In 2020, Alabama, Colorado and Florida approved ballot measures to specify in their state constitutions that noncitizens do not have the right to vote in either state or local elections. During the 2022 midterm elections, Louisiana and Ohio joined that list. Ohio’s measure specifically prohibited local governments from extending the right to vote to noncitizens but, since no Ohio municipality had done so, the amendment did materially change who could vote in the Buckeye State.
Louisiana Secretary of State Kyle Ardoin (R) noted his support for his state’s recently passed amendment: “This vote sends a clear message that the radical election policies of places like San Francisco, New York City, and Washington, D.C. have no place in Louisiana.”
The constitutional amendments are partially in response to actions of a few progressive cities, but such policies also fuel the false belief that noncitizens are voting illegally in U.S. elections. There is no evidence supporting this claim. More serious analyses of these laws still question their constitutionality, logistical implementation and impact on the value of citizenship. Proponents of local noncitizen voting laws argue that long-term residents should have a say in community policy decisions given that they have jobs, pay taxes, own homes and send their children to schools.
Last year, Arizona passed a law requiring all voters to submit documentary proof of citizenship to vote in all elections. The new law quickly prompted seven lawsuits, including one filed by the U.S. Department of Justice, because a federal law requires states to “accept and use” a uniform federal form to register voters for federal elections. This form asks registrants to affirm, but not provide proof, that they are U.S. citizens. Up to 200,000 Arizonans could have their voting rights stripped away because of this law; across the country, millions of American citizens lack the kind of documents the law requires.
As of Feb. 6, strict proof of citizenship bills — like the one in Arizona — have been introduced in at least five states this legislative session. Proposals in Connecticut, Hawaii and New York are unlikely to move forward in Democratic-controlled legislatures, but several committee hearings have already been held on a North Dakota bill and a similar bill was just introduced in Montana. Additionally, legislation in Kansas and Mississippi would require the secretary of state to verify citizenship status and compare voter files to flag potential noncitizens.