Louisiana voters change state constitution to ban non-citizen voting

Pressure to prevent non-citizens from voting in US elections grew over the weekend as Louisiana approved a ban on the practice.

Support was overwhelming, with 73% of voters backing the ban.

Louisiana’s vote follows that of Ohio, where 77% of voters last month approved a similar ban as part of the state constitution. Three other states that have approved bans this decade, including Democratic-leaning Colorado.

Christopher Arps, head of Americans for Citizen Voting, said voters opposed what they saw as an attempt to dilute the vote by allowing non-citizens – and in some cases immigrants who are illegally in the country – to vote in certain elections.

“Blacks, whites, Republicans, conservatives and even Hispanics overwhelmingly do not support allowing voting for non-citizens,” he said. “I think Louisiana is just following a trend of states across the country seeing the trend of what’s happening in New York and Washington, D.C.”

Both of these deep blue jurisdictions have taken steps to open up voting in local elections to non-citizens.

In New York, the policy would have allowed some undocumented immigrants granted a temporary stay of deportation, such as those covered by DACA or Temporary Protected Status, to vote. The policy was suspended by a state court.

In Washington, the city is pursuing a policy that would allow all noncitizens to vote as long as they meet other qualifications and have lived in the city for at least 30 days.

Republicans on Capitol Hill have vowed to use their surveillance over the capitol to try to block the policy.

A 1996 federal law prohibits non-citizens from voting in federal elections as a matter of principle, although this still sometimes happens due to malfeasance or errors, such as automatic voter registration.

No state allows noncitizen voting for statewide offices, but until 2018 only two states, Arizona and Minnesota, included constitutional bars.

North Dakota passed a ban in 2018. Alabama, Colorado and Florida passed bans in 2020. Now Ohio and Louisiana have joined.

No state constitution proactively allows noncitizen voting, but many are considered permissive or ambiguous, leaving localities to test the limits of what is allowed.

Takoma Park, Maryland, has allowed noncitizens to vote in local elections for three decades, and some other cities in the state have followed suit. So there are two cities in Vermont, with San Francisco.

Proponents of noncitizen voting make it a step toward broader democracy, arguing that all residents pay taxes and use services. They say it’s a simple matter of taxation without representation.

Arps countered that many people spend time in localities – and pay sales or other taxes – but cannot vote there.

He said citizenship should mean something. “If you want to become a citizen, complete the process,” he said.

He said his group hopes 10 more states will approve noncitizen voting bans in 2024, with Wisconsin, Iowa and Missouri being the main targets.

The actual effect of non-citizen voting in elections where it is permitted has been negligible. They were reluctant to register and even more reluctant to vote.

San Francisco, the largest jurisdiction to experiment with noncitizen voting so far, allows it for elections involving the school board.

But turnout was in the order of fractions of a percent. In 2018, out of 373,000 ballots, only 59 were from non-citizens. In the 2019 elections, only two non-citizens voted.

Even in places where non-citizen voting has been adopted, it is subject to legal constraints.

The San Francisco ordinance, though in effect for several years, faces challenges in state courts.

A Superior Court judge ruled earlier this year that the policy violated the state Constitution’s language that “a United States citizen who is 18 years old and resides in this state may vote.” The judge said “may” was a limiting word, intended to exclude non-citizens.

A state appeals court stayed that decision.

Across the Bay from Oakland, voters backed a policy last month allowing noncitizens to vote in school board elections, with 62% backing the idea. The matter now goes to the city council for final decision – although any policy is likely to face the same legal hurdles as San Francisco’s.


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