August 10, 2004


Immigrants Raise Call for Right to Be Voters (RACHEL L. SWARNS, August 9, 2004, NY Times)

For months, the would-be revolutionaries plotted strategy and lobbied local politicians here with the age-old plea, "No taxation without representation!" Last month, some of the unlikely insurgents - Ethiopian-born restaurateurs, travel agents and real estate developers in sober business suits - declared that victory finally seemed within reach.

Five City Council members announced their support for a bill that would allow thousands of immigrants to vote in local elections here, placing the nation's capital among a handful of cities across the country in the forefront of efforts to offer voting rights to noncitizens.

"It will happen,'' said Tamrat Medhin, a civic activist from Ethiopia who lives here. "Don't you believe that if people are working in the community and paying taxes, don't you agree that they deserve the opportunity to vote?''

Calling for "democracy for all," immigrants are increasingly pressing for the right to vote in municipal elections. In Washington, the proposed bill, introduced in July, would allow permanent residents to vote for the mayor and members of the school board and City Council.

In San Francisco, voters will decide in November whether to allow noncitizens - including illegal immigrants - to vote in school board elections. Efforts to expand the franchise to noncitizens are also bubbling up in New York, Connecticut and elsewhere. Several cities, including Chicago, and towns like Takoma Park, Md., already allow noncitizens to vote in municipal or school elections.

But in most cities, voting remains a right reserved for citizens, and the prospects for the initiatives in Washington and San Francisco remain uncertain.

There's something sublime about civil rights activists basically making a poll tax argument for voting rights. If we were also to bring back a higher age limit, literacy tests and some kind of civics exam as a qualifier for voting this proposal would certainly make sense.

Posted by Orrin Judd at August 10, 2004 9:46 AM

My question is: Is there something precluding these people from becoming citizens?

Posted by: pchuck at August 10, 2004 10:47 AM

I think what OJ is poking at is the "if people are working in the community and paying taxes, don't you agree that they deserve the opportunity to vote"

The implication is that non-working non-taxpaying persons do not deserve the opportunity to vote. i.e. No votes for the homeless.

The problem is that if this logical step is presented to the liberals who have advanced the votes for immigrants argument, their heads will implode, and I am not sure that Stephen Hawking is yet prepared to tell us what the physical consequences of that implosion would be.

Posted by: Robert Schwartz at August 10, 2004 11:24 AM

If everyone can vote, then why become a citizen? Do you think other countries would go for this way of thinking? I think I would like to go to Mexico and vote but do not want to become a citizen.

Posted by: JR at August 10, 2004 2:08 PM


If you're going to pay taxes, learn Spanish, and pass a citizenship test then why wouldn't they welcome you?

Posted by: oj at August 10, 2004 2:12 PM

Because you're a gringo?

I think they finally repealed it, but for a long time it was illegal for U.S. citizens to own real estate in Mexico.

The Kingdom of Hawaii allowed white non-citizens to vote. It was a disaster all around, electorally speaking.

I'm surprised no one has brought up the issue of allowing suburbanite commuters who work in a city to vote in the city; or, conversely, to allow cities to tax commuters for city services they consume.

It was a minor controvery among policy wonks back in the 1970s.

Posted by: Harry Eagar at August 10, 2004 2:27 PM

Harry --

In Philadelphia, PA, for one, they do indeed tax commuters, but they don't let them vote.

Posted by: Uncle Bill at August 11, 2004 11:15 AM

NYC also taxes commuters.

Posted by: Michael Herdegen at August 11, 2004 10:53 PM