Jan 13, 2022

Should noncitizens be allowed to vote?

Should noncitizens be allowed to vote?

New York City just made it law. Other states could be following suit.

I’m Isaac Saul, and this is Tangle: an independent, ad-free, subscriber-supported politics newsletter that summarizes the best arguments from across the political spectrum on the news of the day — then “my take.”

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Today's read: 10 minutes.

We're covering the new law in New York that allows legal non-citizen residents to vote in elections. Plus, a question about Sonia Sotomayor.

Eric Adams, the new mayor of New York, who recently allowed a non-citizen voting law to go into effect. Photo author: Krystalb97
Eric Adams, the new mayor of New York, who recently allowed a non-citizen voting law to go into effect. Photo author: Krystalb97


Quick hits.

  1. The U.S. Army raised the maximum bonus for new recruits to $50,000 as it struggles to recruit new soldiers during COVID-19 pandemic. (The raise)
  2. The Ohio Supreme Court rejected a new Statehouse maps that strongly favored Republicans, and gave the panel 10 days to fix it. (The ruling)
  3. House minority leader Kevin McCarthy said he won't cooperate with the Jan. 6 committee after it requested to interview him. (The refusal)
  4. A Quinnipiac university poll has President Biden at 33% approval and 53% disapproval. (The numbers)
  5. A New York judge rejected Prince Andrew's request to dismiss a sexual abuse lawsuit filed by Virginia Giuffre, who says the prince assaulted her at Jeffrey Epstein's home when she was 17. (The decision)

Our 'Quick Hits' section is created in partnership with Ground News, a website and app that rates the bias of news coverage and news outlets.

Norway & crime.

In Monday's newsletter, I compared the recidivism rates between Norway (20%) and the U.S. (77%). Someone on Twitter recently went deep on Norway's recidivism rates, which a few readers sent to me, essentially concluding that there are too many differences in how Norway arrests people and counts recidivism to make the comparison accurately. It's a good thread. Though it doesn't take away from my perception of the United States' failures, it is a good reminder about why comparing data across countries is often so difficult.

Today's topic.

Noncitizens voting. Starting next year, 800,000 legal permanent residents will be eligible to vote in New York City, despite not being citizens. The measure applies to legal residents, including those with green cards, and Dreamers who were brought here illegally as children under Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals (DACA). These residents will not be allowed to vote in state or federal elections, but will be allowed to vote in citywide contests.

There was some doubt about whether the bill would become law after Eric Adams won New York's hotly contested Mayoral race. Adams had concerns about a clause that allowed noncitizens to vote after 30 straight days in the city, a period of time he believed was too brief, according to The New York Times. The law was passed in December, and Adams had 30 days to veto it, but chose not to. He told reporters that he changed his mind after consulting with colleagues and advocates.

“I believe that New Yorkers should have a say in their government, which is why I have and will continue to support this important legislation,” the mayor said in a statement. “I look forward to bringing millions more into the democratic process,” he added.

An estimated 808,000 adults will be eligible to vote starting January 9, 2023. The Republican National Committee responded by filing a lawsuit against the mayor, City Council and city Board of Elections, challenging the law as unconstitutional. The original bill passed 33-11, with some Democrats opposing it on the grounds it was unconstitutional or would discourage immigrants from seeking citizenship.

The bill's importance nationally is why we're covering it today. New York City is part of a growing trend. Similar policies have been enacted in Maryland and Vermont and are now being considered in Maine, Massachusetts and Illinois.

The passage of the bill set off a wave of commentary about the right of noncitizen residents to vote. Below, we'll look at some arguments from the left and right, then my take.

What the left is saying.

  • The left argues noncitizens voting is actually part of America’s history.
  • They say it will create incentives for civic engagement.
  • They argue tax paying members of society should get to have a say in government.

In July, Atossa Araxia Abrahamian, a Swiss citizen who has lived in New York since 2004, made the case for 15 million non-citizens voting nationally.

"It’s easy to assume that restricting the franchise to citizens is an age-old, nonnegotiable fact. But it’s actually a relatively recent convention and a political choice,” Abrahamian said. “Early in the United States’ history, voting was a function not of national citizenship but of gender, race and class. As a result, white male landowners of all nationalities were encouraged to play an active role in shaping American democracy, while women and poor, Indigenous and enslaved people could not. That wholesale discrimination is unquestionably worse than excluding resident foreigners from the polls, but the point is that history shows how readily voting laws can be altered — and that restrictive ones tend not to age well.

“Another misconception is that citizen voting rights have always been the prerogative of the federal government,” Abrahamian wrote. “In fact, states have largely decided who had a say in local, state and national elections. Arkansas was the last state to eliminate noncitizen voting, in 1926, and it wasn’t until 1996 that Congress doubled down with the Illegal Immigration Reform and Immigrant Responsibility Act, which made voting in federal elections while foreign — already not permitted because of state-level rules — a criminal and deportable offense. (This means that congressional Democrats working on immigration and election reform can reverse the 1996 sanctions the same way they voted them in.)”

In CNN, Raul Reyes gave New York City a "bravo" for its decision.

"There are about 15 million legal non-residents in the country and about 800,000 in New York City. These are our neighbors who pay taxes, send their children to public schools, start businesses and contribute to their communities. They should be able to elect leaders and have a say in local politics just like anyone else... There is a practical component to the case for allowing noncitizens to vote, too. If a green card holder wants to naturalize and become a citizen, it takes money for fees and legal expenses, and, most importantly, time.

"In 2019, the New York Times reported it took an average of 10 months for aspiring Americans to go through the naturalization process, and that is on top of the at least five years green card holders must wait before they can apply for naturalization," Reyes said. "It is not fair that these potential citizens should go so long without any civic voice as their cases wind their way through our backlogged immigration system. Consider that our country was founded upon the ideas of "no taxation without representation" or that the Declaration of Independence states "Governments are instituted among Men, deriving their just powers from the consent of the governed." Barring noncitizens from voting would seem to violate both of these principles."

In the Boston Globe, Marcela García said Boston should follow New York's lead.

"Most opponents of granting even limited voting rights to legal immigrants see it as fundamentally wrong and unconstitutional, a right that only US citizens should have," García wrote. "They deem it a slippery slope that would invite electoral fraud. The argument that remains unspoken is fear of enfranchising 'the other' — that is, giving immigrants more power than they currently have... Yes, federal law prohibits noncitizens from voting in federal and statewide elections; however, jurisdictions are allowed to change their local electoral rules.

"Consideration on Beacon Hill would probably lead to broader debate and ammunition for GOP scare tactics," García said. "But the underlying question would persist: Do we enfranchise newcomers or do we fear them? New York’s answer: As legal taxpayers, noncitizens should have a say."

What the right is saying.

  • The right says it is unconstitutional and reduces the desire to become a citizen.
  • They worry about “dual loyalty” and voters who are transient.
  • They say it’s a clear power play from Democrats to gain power.

"Make no mistake," John Fund said in the National Review. "The new New York law is part of a nationwide push to blur the very meaning of citizenship and promote noncitizen voting everywhere and for all offices."

"New York City’s law was promoted by former councilman Ydanis Rodríguez, who immigrated to the city from the Dominican Republic and is now the commissioner of the New York City Department of Transportation," Fund wrote. "If noncitizens 'pay their taxes as I did when I had a green card,' he says, 'then they should have a right to elect their local leaders.' He notes that the new law will limit the right to vote to legal residents and green-card holders. But that’s only because an earlier version of his legislation from 2013 that would have given the vote to illegal aliens simply generated too much political heat."

"Few experts believe that in a place where noncitizen voting is allowed there would be effective enforcement of laws still barring illegal aliens from voting," Fund said. "They already can choose to vote without much fear of detection. A 2014 study by two Old Dominion University professors, based on survey data from the Cooperative Congressional Election Study, indicated that 6.4 percent of all noncitizens voted illegally in the 2008 presidential election and that 2.2 percent did in the 2010 midterms. Given that 80 percent of noncitizens lean Democratic, they cite Al Franken ‘s 312-vote win in the 2008 U.S. Senate race in Minnesota as one likely tipped by noncitizen voting. That election also had profound consequences. As a senator, Franken cast the 60th vote to break the filibuster — a vote that was needed to make Obamacare law."

The Wall Street Journal editorial board said "almost anyone can vote" in New York now.

"New York’s constitution guarantees citizens the right to vote, 'provided that such citizen is eighteen years of age' and has been a resident for 30 days," the board said. "The progressive argument is that this language doesn’t explicitly exclude noncitizens, so New York City can grant them the franchise. But think what else this implies. The constitution only specifically says that a 'citizen' must be 18 to vote. So could the city expand local elections to 12-year-old noncitizens? Ditto for the constitution’s 30-day residency rule. Could the city let noncitizens cross the Hudson River declare residency, and vote the next day? As legal analysis, this isn’t what New York’s constitution means.

"Because noncitizens can’t participate in federal or state races, a practical problem is that the city’s Board of Elections, which is legendary for ineptitude, would have to manage a second voting list and set of ballots," the board said. "What about people who don’t speak the basic English required by the citizenship test? Councilman Mark Treyger, a Brooklyn Democrat who abstained on the bill, said he once asked for a law requiring interpreters at polling sites, and 'I was told that we didn’t have the authority.'"

In The New York Post, Michael Goodwin said one of the rights that has "universally" distinguished citizens from noncitizens is the right to vote.

"Unfortunately, we can now add that distinction to history’s trash heap thanks to the far left’s war on the nation’s culture and legal systems," Goodwin said. "Under the measure, in addition to meeting rules for age and registration, the only other requirement is that the immigrants be either lawful permanent residents or authorized to work in the United States. In either case, they can vote starting next January after living in New York for as little as 30 consecutive days. Yes, 30 days, which is the equivalent of a drive-by vote from people who have sworn allegiance to another nation.

"The issue is not the right of immigrants to voice opinions," Goodwin wrote. "For there to be a fair and functioning democracy, large groups of voters cannot have the right to the privileges of citizenship without the commitment. Otherwise, what is the point of citizenship, a question that future immigrants might ask themselves."

My take.

I'll be honest: Of all the issues I've covered in Tangle, this is probably in the top-10 of ones I came in most close-minded on. The idea that American citizens should be determining who our politicians are seems about as straightforward as any part of U.S. politics that I can imagine. And yet, there were some convincing arguments made by the left that surprised me.

Perhaps the best argument (in my mind) is the civics one. It's hard enough to get American citizens to vote, so the idea of opening the doors to legal residents to inspire a sense of commitment and investment in their communities is compelling. I like the thought of drawing investment from non-citizens by allowing them to vote, and would like it even more if it prompted more actual citizens to start showing up for elections — even if it is out of fear.

I also found the right-wing fears of "dual loyalty" to be absurd. Dual citizens are allowed to vote right now, many from abroad, and I don't think a wave of non-citizen immigrants are going to turn out to vote in an effort to damage America. Nearly all of them are living here because they want to live here, so they have the incentive to make the communities they're living in better.

I'm also acutely aware that many laws are currently being run through state legislatures by Republican politicians which would make voting less accessible and more complicated, and probably improve their odds of holding onto power. Which is just to say: they're guilty of many of the things they're accusing Democrats of here. Politicians are always looking to retain power.

And yet... I'm left wondering how this is the story we're grappling with. The idea that noncitizens who have been living in New York for 30 days should be able to vote doesn't pass the basic sniff test. Let me give you a parallel scenario: I lived in Israel for six months. Not once did I ever feel the entitlement to vote in an election there (even though some non-citizens in Israel can vote), nor did I come remotely close to grappling with the country's issues in a way that would have prepared me to vote. I couldn't speak the language and was still learning how to use the public transportation when I left — and that was after six months — six months where I was doing my best to immerse myself in the country, the culture and the politics.

To acknowledge this reality is not racist or xenophobic. It never even occurred to me that I should have the right to vote in an Israeli election, despite being a Jew and it being my “homeland,” and in retrospect I still believe I never should have been granted that right. On top of the fundamental things I was missing to qualify me as an Israeli voter, the stakes simply weren't as high for me as they are for lifelong citizens.

I'm sympathetic to the immigrant argument specific to the United States, too: Our system is broken, expensive, and citizenship is very difficult to attain. I'm a border-loving, pro-immigrant American who believes the vast, vast majority of legal immigration is an economic net positive as well as a cultural one, too. I also have long advocated for voting to be easier and simpler in the U.S., because most of the solutions to simplify things (like paper ballots and mail-in voting) are actually also the most secure. So on paper, you might think I'm a prime candidate to support a measure like this. But I'm not.

Along with the pro-immigration case to oppose this bill (namely, dis-incentivizing citizenship) and the obvious legal hurdles (which could very well sink the bill regardless), the proposal specific to New York has far too short a period of time required and is such an obvious play to expand Democratic power in the city it's nearly laughable. One Councilwoman, Laurie Cumbo, actually said the quiet part out loud and conceded she opposed the bill because "the top three ethnic groups" who would benefit were "the Dominican Republic, China, as well as Mexico," who are increasingly Republican.

I love the goal to expand voting enfranchisement and invest more people in our democracy. But this isn't the way to do it, and citizenship as a bar for voting seems perfectly reasonable and functional as it is.

Have thoughts about "my take?" You can reply to this email and write in or leave a comment if you're a subscriber.

Your questions, answered.

So disappointed that in your reporting on the Supreme Court justices’ comments on the vaccine mandates you failed to mention the huge faux pas made by Justice Sotomayor. She is reported to have stated that there were 200,000 children in the hospital with COVID 19 many of whom were on ventilators. This egregious error was corrected by both Anthony Fauci and Rachel Walensky. My understanding is that Sotomayor, as a Supreme Court Justice, has many employees at her disposal to conduct research. How could she make such a mistake? Is she fit to be on the court? How did you miss this?

— Anne, Tuscon, Arizona

Tangle: Most Tangle newsletters clock in somewhere between 3,000 and 4,000 words. We have long distinguished ourselves as something separate from what you might get at TheSkimm or The Flip Side or Axios. We try to go long on single issues, going more in-depth, adding more information, more nuance, and presenting a lot of competing arguments.

But we're still limited to space. All that's to say: I didn't miss it, so much as I didn't find it particularly relevant to the debate at hand. There are all sorts of tough decisions about what to include and what not to. Yes, Sotomayor said 100,000 children were in the hospital (she said 100,000, not 200,000) and in serious condition. Yes, this number is absurd and was fact-checked to the moon and back.

But the number one reason not reporting it is because it seemed distracting and Supreme Court justices say silly, stupid and wrong things that need to be fact-checked all the time (they are human, after all). The other reason is that there is enough unjustified fear about Covid-19 and children out there and I saw no reason to add to it. I have no idea how Sotomayor came to believe something so far from the truth, but I don't think it makes her unqualified for the court so much as it is a good reminder justices are not infallible.

Want to ask a question? You can reply to this email and write in (it goes straight to my inbox) or fill out this form.

A story that matters.

Used-car prices are continuing to surge, according to Axios markets. In December, used cars were up 37% compared to the previous year. Now, they've become a microcosm of the inflation challenges the U.S. is facing — at the intersection of supply chain issues and booming demand. Behind housing, U.S. car prices were the second-biggest driver of inflation in December, responsible for almost a quarter of the increase. Axios has the story.


  • 71%. The percentage of respondents who opposed a San Francisco effort to pass a bill that allowed non-citizens to vote.
  • 29%. The percentage of respondents who supported a San Francisco effort to pass a bill that allowed non-citizens to vote.
  • 44.8 million. The number of people in the United States who were born in another country as of 2018.
  • 77%. The percentage of those immigrants who are here legally, according to Pew.
  • 45%. The percentage of those immigrants who are naturalized citizens, as of 2017.

Have a nice day.

California Gov. Gavin Newsom recently signed an executive order that outlaws price gouging for Covid-19 kits. The order was one of the first steps in the nation to slow down the practice of price-gouging on Covid-19 tests, which has run rampant since kits became in short supply. Per the governor’s executive order, "sellers who have not previously sold at-home COVID-19 test kits may not sell testing kits for a price that is greater than 50% of what the seller paid to get the testing kit," Fox Business reported.

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