Non-citizen Voting in Connecticut

The Mayor of New Haven, Connecticut, John DeStefano, a Democrat, wants to let non-citizens vote in city elections.  One might ask the good mayor if he also thinks it OK for non-citizens to run for city offices, too -- like for mayor.  According to a news story in New Haven Register, Pat O'Neill, spokesman for the state GOP House Republicans, asked when told of DeStefano's proposal: "When are they going to extend voting rights to the dead?"

One inconvenient little snag for Mr. DeStefano's expansion of the franchise is the Constitution of the State of Connecticut, which stipulates in Article 6, Section 1 that voters must be U.S. citizens.  One might think that in requiring citizenship to vote, Connecticut's Constitution is merely reaffirming the U.S. Constitution.  But there is no such requirement in the original Constitution, nor is there even an instance of the word "citizen" in the Bill of Rights.  Indeed, in all of the U.S. Constitution (including the other amendments), it is not explicitly stated that to vote in America, one must be a citizen.

The U.S. Constitution leaves eligibility requirements for voting to the states.  Some states, for example, don't allow incarcerated felons to vote.  So, could the states amend their constitutions and strike down the citizenship requirement for voting?

The question of whether non-citizens can legally vote in American elections was treated in an excellent 2008 paper by Stanley Renshon:

One advocate of non-citizen voting for example, boldly proclaims, "The Constitution does not preclude it, and courts have upheld it."126 The first statement is true, although as advocates surely know, this is actually quite a minimalist statement since the Constitution is silent on a very great number of matters. It is quite possible to locate in the Constitution's 26th Amendment which contains the phrase "the right of citizens... to vote...," a specific linkage tying voting to citizenship.127

Still, it would be nice if the U.S. Constitution specifically stated that one must be a citizen to vote in America, just to settle the matter once and for all.  But even if we had a new amendment that unequivocally laid out such a requirement, the states aren't verifying the citizenship requirement they already have that is laid out in their own constitutions.  The states simply aren't demanding of voter registrants the data that would make such verifications possible.  To wit:

Here's Connecticut's mail-in voter registration form, straight from the secretary of State's official website.  Insofar as verifying a registrant's citizenship goes, you'll notice that all Connecticut does is ask in box 1b: "Are you a U.S. citizen?"  And then in box 11, where one signs and dates the form: "I swear or affirm that: I am a U.S. citizen."

There's no other requested data on this registration form that could possibly allow a registrar to confirm the citizenship of a registrant except box 4, where the registrant puts his Connecticut driver's license number.  (According to Federation for American Immigration Reform [FAIR], many states have lax procedures for vetting driver's license applicants.)  If one doesn't have a CT driver's license, then one is to enter the last 4 digits of one's Social Security number.  Now, how does one verify an ID if one doesn't have the complete ID?  In this case, one doesn't even have half of the ID.  Moreover, instruction 5 seems to undo the feeble demands of box 4 with even more substitute documents and with this wishy-washy language: "you may wish to submit."

The upshot is that Mayor DeStefano's push for not-citizen voting in his fair city is misplaced, as non-citizens can already vote in Connecticut, just as they can in all the several states.  And that's because the states aren't even beginning to verify the citizenship of their voter registrants.  Which raises this question: if a secretary of State were required to verify the citizenship of each and every voter on her state's voter registries, how would she do it?

Another question: what should the most basic requirement for voting in America be?  One Connecticut newspaper, The Hartford Courant, has the answer:

Voting is a duty, and privilege, of citizenship. It's at the core of our rights as Americans. Our democratic government is a strong reason why many immigrants want to become U.S. citizens. Some risk their lives for it, whether in escaping despotic regimes or by serving in the U.S. military. It's true that too many Americans take this precious right for granted. But that doesn't justify giving it away.

(Here's an interesting video on the New Haven story from New England Cable News.)

Jon N. Hall is a programmer/analyst from Kansas City.

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