Voting is a privilege and a responsibility of free people. After all, voters help approve laws and elect representatives who govern them. Traditionally in the United States, only citizens may vote. But in one American city, more than 800,000 noncitizens may soon have access to the ballot box.
Suffrage, or the right to vote, is a highly charged issue. At various times in history, voting rights have been denied based on race, wealth, gender, residence, or age. In the United States, the Constitution as well as state and federal laws govern who may vote.
Noncitizen voting is not a new concept in America. Since the early days of the Republic, numerous U.S. states and territories have allowed noncitizens to vote under certain circumstances. Today, more than a dozen U.S. communities allow noncitizens to cast ballots in local elections, including 11 towns in Maryland and two in Vermont.
New York City has become the first major U.S. city to begin granting widespread city voting rights to all residents. Nearly one in nine of the metropolis’s seven million voting-age inhabitants are legally documented, voting-age noncitizens who could soon begin voting.
Some rules for the new law already exist. Noncitizens who have been lawful permanent residents of the city for at least 30 days will be eligible to vote. So will immigrants brought to the country illegally as children (known as “Dreamers”; see more about that group in DACA: On and Off) and those authorized to work in the United States. Those groups may help select city leaders such as mayor and city council members.
Noncitizens would not be able to vote for U.S. president or members of Congress or in statewide elections.
The noncitizen voting law may take effect in 2023. But before that happens, NY Board of Elections officials must establish voter registration rules—and decide how to prevent noncitizens from casting ballots in federal and state contests while they’re in the voting booth.
Opponents vow to challenge the law. They say city council lacks the authority to grant noncitizen voting rights and should have worked through state lawmakers.
Alabama, Arizona, Colorado, and Florida have adopted rules that would block attempts to pass noncitizen voting laws like New York City’s.
Others are pleased with the change. Former NY City Councilmember Ydanis Rodriguez led the charge to approve the legislation. He says, “We build a stronger democracy when we include the voices of immigrants.”
Do you agree with noncitizen voting? Why or why not? What does the Bible say about treatment of strangers and aliens living in other communities? How should inclusion and restrictions be determined?
Why? All authority ultimately comes from God—not the ballot box—but nations still must carefully evaluate how to honor, serve, and limit humanity within their borders.