Right of foreigners to vote in the United States

The right of foreigners to vote in the United States[1][2] has historically been a contentious issue. A foreigner, in this context, is an alien or a person who is not a citizen of the United States. Since enactment of the Illegal Immigration Reform and Immigrant Responsibility Act of 1996, federal law has prohibited noncitizens from voting in federal elections, punishing them by fines, imprisonment, inadmissibility and deportation.[3][4][5] Exempt from punishment is any noncitizen who, at the time of voting, had two natural or adoptive U.S. citizen parents, who began permanently living in the United States before turning 16 years old, and who reasonably believed that he or she was a citizen of the United States.[3] The federal law does not prohibit noncitizens from voting in state or local elections, but no state has allowed noncitizens to vote in state elections since Arkansas became the last state to outlaw noncitizen voting in 1926.[6] However, in some states, local governments have the power to allow noncitizens to vote in local elections. Presently, eleven local governments, ten of them in Maryland, allow noncitizens to vote in their local elections.[7] San Francisco allows noncitizen parents to vote in School Board elections.[8] Additionally, the U.S. territories of American Samoa and the Northern Mariana Islands allow non-citizen US nationals to vote.[9][10]

Historically, over 40 states or territories, including colonies before the Declaration of Independence, have at some time given at least some aliens voting rights in some or all elections.[11][12][13][14] For example, in 1875, the Supreme Court in Minor v. Happersett noted that "citizenship has not in all cases been made a condition precedent to the enjoyment of the right of suffrage. Thus, in Missouri, persons of foreign birth, who have declared their intention to become citizens of the United States, may under certain circumstances vote."[15]

By 1900, nearly half of the states and territories had some experience with voting by aliens, and for some the experience lasted more than half a century.[16] At the turn of the twentieth century, anti-immigration feeling ran high, and Alabama stopped allowing aliens to vote by way of a constitutional change in 1901; Colorado followed suit in 1902, Wisconsin in 1908, and Oregon in 1914.[17] Just as the nationalism unleashed by the War of 1812 helped to reverse the alien suffrage policies inherited from the late eighteenth century, World War I caused a sweeping retreat from the progressive alien suffrage policies of the late nineteenth century.[18] In 1918, Kansas, Nebraska, and South Dakota all changed their constitutions to purge alien suffrage, and Texas ended the practice of noncitizen voting in primary elections by statute.[17] Indiana and Texas joined the trend in 1921, followed by Mississippi in 1924 and, finally, Arkansas in 1926.[19] In 1931, political scientist Leon Aylsworth noted that "[f]or the first time in over a hundred years, a national election was held in 1928 in which no alien in any state had the right to cast a vote for a candidate for any office – national, state, or local."[20]

Historical data[]

No citizenship requirement for suffrage[]











New Hampshire[]


New Jersey[]


New York[]


North Carolina[]


Northwest Territory[]

1787 Northwest Ordinance (valid until 1803) "Provided, That no person be eligible or qualified to act as a representative unless he shall have been a citizen of one of the United States three years, and be a resident in the district, or unless he shall have resided in the district three years; and, in either case, shall likewise hold in his own right, in fee simple, two hundred acres of land within the same; Provided, also, That a freehold in 50 acres (200,000 m2) of land in the district, having been a citizen of one of the states, and being resident in the district, or the like freehold and two years residence in the district, shall be necessary to qualify a man as an elector of a representative."[22]



Rhode Island[]


South Carolina[]






Suffrage for those who intend to become citizens[]
























North Dakota[]






South Dakota[]








Recent events[]

Jamie Raskin, an American law professor and politician, has argued that the blanket exclusion of noncitizens from the ballot is neither constitutionally required nor historically normal.[11] A San Francisco State University political science professor and rights activist, Ron Hayduk, wrote in 2006 a book entitled Democracy For All: Restoring Immigrant Voting Rights In The United States, presenting additional elements of the historical and present reality of noncitizens voting rights in the United States.[13]

American Samoa & the Northern Mariana Islands[]

Unlike the United States's other self-governing territories, American Samoa, an unincorporated, unorganized territory of the United States since 1900, has not been given jus soli birthright citizenship either by incorporation or act of Congress for those born in its borders. As a result, people born in American Samoa or any United States Minor Outlying Island are not given automatic US citizenship but have instead been given US nationality without citizenship.[45][46][47]

Residents of the Northern Mariana Islands gained automatic US citizenship via the Covenant with the United States in November 1986, but also have the option (prior to reaching the age of 18) to reject US citizenship and accept non-citizen US nationality instead.[48]

Under American Samoa law and Northern Mariana Islands law, both US citizens and non-citizen nationals may register to vote,[9][10] making them the only jurisdictions at the state or territorial level that allow non-citizens to vote and making their delegates the only members of Congress voted for by non-citizens.


On October 28, 2015, Governor Jerry Brown signed a bill into law that automatically registers all citizen resident holders of a driver's license as a registered voter for all California ballots, including federal elections. Opponents expressed concern this could offer suffrage rights to noncitizen residents, since a January 2015 legislation decreed the right of a driver's license to noncitizens.[49] However, as the Sacramento Bee pointed out, "people will need to attest they're citizens before being able to register," "undocumented immigrants applying for driver's licenses, a right they gained this year, will not be offered the option."[50] Citizenship status is verified at the DMV when applying for a license.[51]

While voting as a noncitizen in a federal election carries legal penalties, California Assembly Bill No. 1461[52] removes legal ramifications from the State of California for individuals that accurately represent themselves and the DMV incorrectly registers the individual to vote, which means a failure on the DMV clerk or system to properly execute the process of verifying the voter registration information for the individual:

"Existing law makes it a crime for a person to willfully cause, procure, or allow himself or herself or any other person to be registered as a voter, knowing that he or she or that other person is not entitled to registration. Existing law also makes it a crime to fraudulently vote or attempt to vote.

This bill would provide that if a person who is ineligible to vote becomes registered to vote by operation of the California New Motor Voter Program in the absence of a violation by that person of the crime described above, that person's registration shall be presumed to have been effected with official authorization and not the fault of that person. The bill would also provide that if a person who is ineligible to vote becomes registered to vote by operation of this program, and that person votes or attempts to vote in an election held after the effective date of the person's registration, that person shall be presumed to have acted with official authorization and is not guilty of fraudulently voting or attempting to vote, unless that person willfully votes or attempts to vote knowing that he or she is not entitled to vote."

This specific wording is added to deal with California Probate Code Section 18100, as is noted later in the bill, describing good faith transactions with a trustee.

San Francisco Proposition N[]

In November 2016 voters in San Francisco approved a proposal to allow all parents of children in the San Francisco school system to vote in school board elections regardless of their immigration or citizenship status.[53] Unless extended by the San Francisco Board of Supervisors, the proposition is only effective for the school board elections of 2018, 2020, and 2022.[54] Voters rejected similar proposals in 2004 and 2010.[55]

Critics, such as Florida's Agriculture Commissioner Adam Putnam, have used this proposition to generalize that noncitizens can vote in San Francisco.[56] Former Congressmember Doug Ose has submitted a proposed ballot measure to state officials that would ban voting by those in the U.S. illegally.[57]

San Francisco's effort to get noncitizen parents to the ballot box in mid-term elections in 2018 resulted in only 49 people signing up to vote.

Public calls for foreign suffrage[]

In 2017 Joe Matthews, Connecting California columnist and California or at Zócalo Public Square, an Ideas Exchange that is a project of New America and Arizona State University,[58] called for universal suffrage.[59]


An "act concerning voting by resident alien property owners", "to allow alien property owners to vote at town meetings and referenda", was submitted to the Connecticut General Assembly in 2003.[60]

District of Columbia[]

An "Equitable Voting Rights Amendment Act" was proposed, and rejected in commission, in 2004.[61]


LD 1195, "An Act To Allow Noncitizen Residents To Vote in Municipal Elections", was submitted to the 124th Maine Legislature in 2009 and was voted down.[62]


Maryland ended noncitizen voting rights for state and federal elections in 1851, but its constitution recognizes the autonomy of local municipalities and localities on the subject.

Places where noncitizens can currently vote in Maryland[]

As of February, 2008, one city, three towns, and three villages in Montgomery County have introduced bills to restore the right to vote to foreigners within their jurisdictions:[13][63]


Three municipal assemblies in the state of Massachusetts have introduced bills to confer foreigners the right to vote. The municipal assembly in the city of Newton introduced a bill to this effect in 2004, while Amherst and Cambridge did so in 1998.[74] However, as of February 2008, the proposals had not been approved by the state's assembly.


A "bill for an act relating to elections; proposing an amendment to the Minnesota Constitution, article VII, section 1; authorizing local units of government to permit permanent resident noncitizens to vote in local elections" was submitted on February 7, 2005 at the Minnesota House of Representatives.[75]

New York[]

Bills were submitted at the New York City Council and at the New York State Assembly in 2003, 2005, 2006 and 2010.[76]

In New York City, noncitizens who have children in public schools could vote in school board elections until 2002. Since then there are no longer elected school boards.


A bill was submitted by Rep. Roberto Alonzo in 1995 "proposing a constitutional amendment providing by local option for a lawfully admitted resident alien to vote in an election held by a political subdivision."[77]


Montpelier citizens passed a charter change on November 6, 2018 that would afford full voting rights in municipal elections to any legal non-citizens residing in the city.[78] Approval by the legislature (required for the measure to take effect) is still pending. A similar proposal was discussed by the city council in Winooski, but the proposal was defeated.[79]

See also[]


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  3. ^ a b "18 U.S.C. §611. - Voting by Aliens". United States Congress. Retrieved October 24, 2014.
  4. ^ "8 U.S.C. 1182(a)(10)(D) - Inadmissible aliens". Legal Information Institute. Cornell University Law School. Retrieved April 25, 2016.
  5. ^ "8 U.S.C. 1227(a)(6) - Deportable aliens". Legal Information Institute. Cornell University Law School. Retrieved April 25, 2016.
  6. ^ Thompson, Simon (December 3, 2010). "Voting Rights: Earned or Entitled?". Harvard Political Review. Cite journal requires |journal= (help)
  7. ^ As of September 2018, the 11 local governments allowing noncitizens to vote were: Takoma Park, Barnesville, Martin's Additions, Somerset, Chevy Chase Sections 3 and 5, Glen Echo, Garrett Park, Hyattsville, Mount Rainer and Riverdale Park[citation needed]
  8. ^ "Around The US". ronhayduk.com. Retrieved April 18, 2017.
  9. ^ a b American Samoa Government - Election Office: Registration Requirements
  10. ^ a b Register to Vote in the Northern Mariana Islands
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  12. ^ Williamson, Chilton (1960), American Suffrage. From property to democracy, Princeton University Press
  13. ^ a b c d e f g h i j k l m n o p q r s t u v w x y z aa ab ac ad ae af ag ah ai aj ak Hayduk, Ronald (2006), Democracy For All: Restoring Immigrant Voting Rights In The United States, Routledge, ISBN 978-0-415-95073-2
  14. ^ see also Droit de vote des étrangers aux États-Unis
  15. ^ U.S. Supreme Court, Minor v. Happersett 88 U.S. 162 (1875), retrieved December 8, 2007
  16. ^ Raskin 1993, citing Rosberg, Gerald M. (April–May 1977), Aliens and Equal Protection: Why Not the Right to Vote?, 75, Michigan Law Review, p. 1099
  17. ^ a b Raskin 1993, citing Aylsworth, Leon E. (1931), The Passing of Alien Suffrage, 25, American Political Science Review, p. 115
  18. ^ Raskin 1993, citing Braeman, John; Bremner, Robert Hamlett; Brody, David (1968), Change and Continuity in Twentieth Century America: the 1920s: The 1920s, Ohio State University Press, p. 229
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  20. ^ Raskin 1993, citing Aylsworth 1931, p. 114
  21. ^ the entry Constitution of the Commonwealth of Massachusetts (1780) on Wikisource is not the original 1780 text but the present-day amended text; for the original 1780 constitution, see: A constitution or frame of government, Agreed upon by the Delegates of the People of the State of Massachusetts Bay, teachingamericanhistory.org – Ashbrook Center for Public Affairs at Ashland University, March 2, 1780, retrieved December 12, 2007
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  67. ^ Town of Glen Echo - Town Election "2. Any person who is not a United States citizen, and (a) is a resident of the Town of Glen Echo,(b) is a lawful resident of the United States, and (c) except for the United States citizenship requirement, meets the voter qualifications provided in Section 501(a) may register to vote in Town elections, as set forth in Charter Section 506."
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  78. ^ (2018) Montpelier Approves Non-Citizen Voting in Local Elections. In: U.S. News & World Report. https://www.usnews.com/news/best-states/vermont/articles/2018-11-08/montpelier-approves-non-citizen-voting-in-local-elections.
  79. ^ Davis, M. (2018, December 10). Vermont's Most Diverse City Rejects Noncitizen Voting for Now. Retrieved from https://www.sevendaysvt.com/vermont/vermonts-most-diverse-city-rejects-noncitizen-voting-for-now/Content?oid=20697360Montpelier Approves Non-Citizen Voting in Local Elections. (2018, November 8). Retrieved from https://www.usnews.com/news/best-states/vermont/articles/2018-11-08/montpelier-approves-non-citizen-voting-in-local-elections