Engaged in a Facebook conversation this weekend with a friend on the subject of voter ID requirements, which led to my further thoughts on the subject of non-citizen voting in American elections.
The friend posed the following:
“I ask this in the interest of educating myself. Why is it so controversial to required voters to produce proof of citizenship (drivers license, passport, etc.) to register to vote? I honestly don’t understand. The vast majority of citizens have the required documentation. I don’t want people who are not citizens to vote and make decisions about how my country is run. It seems like such a little thing to do. But, as I said, I would like to know the other side of the argument. Please – enlighten me.”
To which I responded:
I would approach the issue from a different perspective. Before expressing that perspective, however, some clarifications regarding various documents is appropriate. First, and contrary to popular misconception, it is not necessary to be a citizen to obtain a SSN; and second, it is not necessary to be a citizen to obtain a California driver’s license or ID card (or the equivalents thereof in other states). Therefore, having either or even both, cannot “prove” citizenship.
For anyone born in the US, the only document which really “proves” citizenship is a birth certificate. And even that really doesn’t “prove” anything, for this reason: there is no correlation between the document which is the “birth certificate” and the live person who says that it is his or her proof of citizenship. No fingerprints, no photograph (which wouldn’t be much use anyway) and no DNA. If I show my birth certificate as proof of citizenship, what I am really doing is saying, “This is me”, without any real proof that it is.
Which is, fundamentally, no different than what we do when we sign a verification of citizenship as part of the process of registering to vote.
In essence, by any process currently available, voter registration authorities have to rely on the word of the person registering and voting that he or she is the person attempting to vote.
I am comfortable with that process by which the collective “we” trusts the individuals in our communities to play by the rules. The relatively small number of non-citizens who go to the trouble to falsely registering to vote is, in most places, vanishingly small.
The real question, in my mind, is why should we fear non-citizens voting. For most of the history of the United States, non-citizens were allowed to vote in local and state elections in as many as 22 states and some federal territories. It wasn’t until the 1920’s that the concept of disenfranchising non-citizens became widespread. If we are willing to allow non-citizens to become members of our community, seek and maintain employment, own property, buy and sell goods, attend our schools and participate in all manner of governmental programs, why should we not allow them a voice in deciding how government will function in that community?
For a good review of the alternative, see this article about Takoma Park, Maryland, which has allowed non-citizens to vote in local elections since 1991:
This article also notes that the city of New York is currently considering a proposal to allow non-citizens (who make up roughly 1/3 of the city’s population) to vote in city elections.
As of 2004, 20 countries in the world, mostly in Europe and including the European Union, allowed non-citizens to vote. See this site for a complete list:
Frankly, I’d much rather have hard-working, law-abiding, productive non-citizens voting than many of the “natural-born” citizens that I’ve run across in my lifetime.
Keep in mind, I am referring here to non-citizens legally in the US. Those who are here illegally is a completely separate, and much more complex, issue requiring a somewhat different analysis.