Political Rights in the Age of Migration: Lessons from the United States
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Voting is reserved for citizens, right? No. It is not widely known that immigrants, or noncitizens, currently vote in local elections in Chicago and Maryland. Moreover, campaigns to expand the franchise to noncitizens have been launched in at least a dozen other jurisdictions from coast to coast since 1990, including New York, Massachusetts, Washington D.C., California, Maine, Colorado, Minnesota, Wisconsin, Connecticut, Vermont, New Jersey, North Carolina, and Texas. These contemporary practices have their roots in another little-known fact: for most of US history—from the founding until the 1920s—noncitizens voted in 40 states and federal territories in local, state, and even federal elections. Moreover, noncitizens were permitted to—and did—hold public office such as alderman, coroner, and school board member. For most of America’s history and in the vast majority of the USA, voting by noncitizens was the norm, not the exception. These policies reflect the impact of massive demographic shifts and the spread of democratic ideas. Noncitizens pay taxes, own businesses and homes, send their children to public schools, and can be drafted or serve in the military, yet proposals to grant them voting rights are often met with great resistance. But in a country where “no taxation without representation” was once a rallying cry for revolution, such a proposition is not, after all, so outlandish. This essay examines the politics and practices of immigrant voting in the USA, chronicling the rise and fall—and reemergence—of immigrant voting. In addition, this essay looks at the arguments for and against noncitizen voting and its impact and on policy and American political development.
KeywordsImmigrant voting Political rights Noncitizens Immigrant voting Alien suffrage Local citizenship Immmigrant incorporation Political incorporation Urban politics
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