Posted on August 6, 2004

Latest Open Borders Fad: Non-Citizen Voting

Phil Kent,, Aug. 5

It’s got to be pretty atrocious when even a flaming liberal like U.S. Sen. Diane Feinstein, D-Ca., believes the open borders lobby has done something “unconstitutional.” Yet there she was, joining the many nationwide critics of the July 20 vote by San Francisco’s liberal city legislature allowing non-citizens to vote in Board of Education elections. (The measure will still need full approval from voters in November.)

Feinstein, once a mayor of the city, flatly says the scheme clashes with state law: “The California constitution specifically states that only California residents who are U.S. citizens at least 18 years of age can vote in California elections. . . It clearly dilutes the promise of citizenship.”

Of course, backers of the measure are expecting a legal challenge. So state Assemblyman Leland Yee, says he’ll introduce statewide legislation to strengthen the school board measure’s legality. (Will Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger resist? That, so far, is an unanswered question.)

Our U.S. Constitution doesn’t say anything about a citizenship requirement to vote. Voting rights are the prerogative of the states — and most don’t allow non-citizens to participate. Indeed, voting is a privilege that — as many politicians of all stripes traditionally point out — countless members of the U.S. armed forces fought and died for. Indeed, as Feinstein says, doesn’t allowing such voting dilute the very concept of citizenship?

California advocates of on-citizen voting point to a few other U.S. cities where foreign aliens have been allowed to cast ballots in recent years. The American Friends Service Committee is vocally pushing this latest open borders fad. “Civic participation is of prime importance” says Christian Ramirez, an AFSC official launching a non-citizen vote campaign two years from now in San Diego. “If migrants are contributing economically, socially and culturally to a society, we feel that constitutes a premise of citizenship,” he says.

Chicago and New York City are the only big cities that allowed anyone who had a child in its school system to participate in community school board elections. But that recently ended in the Big Apple when Mayor Michael Bloomberg restructured the school system.

In 1992 voters in Tacoma Park, Maryland, narrowly approved giving non-citizens the franchise. Five other Maryland municipalities followed suit — including the affluent Washington, D.C. suburb of Chevy Chase where 10 percent of the population constitutes foreign-born non-citizens.

In 2003 the cities of Cambridge and Amherst in Massachusetts approved giving a vote to everyone over 18 years of age regardless of immigration status. But they await state legislation to enable it.

Furthermore, an open borders coalition in the District of Columbia seeks the vote of every foreigner for all local elections. It hopes to stir discontent because the district itself does not have voting representatives in Congress.

In light of this campaign, the Washington-based Center for Immigration Studies rightly points to the increasing problem of split loyalties among foreigners on our shores. Spokeswoman Jessica Vaughn particularly criticizes Mexican immigrants’ longtime drive to have Mexico let them vote in its elections from here — an effort that recently gained the support of Mexican President Vicente Fox. (Mexico allows dual citizenship, but voters have to cast ballots within its borders. Other nations, such as Israel, have similar policies.)

An index of this country’s decline is that some cities are even having a public policy discussion about non-citizens getting the vote. But the good news is that polls indicate more Americans on the left side of the political spectrum, perhaps like Diane Feinstein, are joining centrists and traditional conservatives in having serious second thoughts about erasing borders and voting qualifications during a time of terrorism, overpopulation and strained educational and medical systems.

Phil Kent is an Atlanta media consultant and author of The Dark Side of Liberalism (Harbor House, 2003).