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One Word In Your State Constitution Could Open Up Your Elections To Foreign Nationals

But a majority of state constitutions declare that every citizen — not necessarily only a citizen — is an eligible voter.


In June, Burlington became the third Vermont city to allow foreign nationals to vote. It should come as no surprise that the home of socialist U.S. Sen. Bernie Sanders would sign off, and Vermont’s Democrat-controlled legislature would override liberal Republican Gov. Phil Scott’s veto of Burlington’s charter change to let noncitizens cast ballots in local elections. 

The leftists were overjoyed.  

“We have a lot more immigrants and refugees, folks who’ve come here who don’t hold U.S. citizenship status, and they’ve been here for years,” Rep. Emma Mulvaney-Stanak, a Burlington Democrat and leader of the Vermont House Progressive Caucus, told Vermont Public Radio at the time.  

Burlington changed its charter (and tweaked state law), giving the right to vote to any citizen or “legal resident” foreigner — someone “who resides in the United States on a permanent or indefinite basis in compliance with federal immigration laws,” according to the Vermont League of Cities and Towns. 

Scott, a blue Republican governing arguably America’s bluest state, doesn’t have a problem with foreign nationals “calling Vermont home … participating in the issues affecting their communities,” according to Vermont Public Radio. He just doesn’t like the “patchwork of voting rules that enfranchise noncitizens in some towns, and deny them access to the ballot box in others.” He said it “creates separate and unequal classes of legal residents potentially eligible to vote on local voting issues.”

The Republican National Committee objected to watering down the idea that citizenship conveys the cherished right of voting. The RNC took a similar charter change in Montpelier to the Vermont Supreme Court. The court was just fine with the refreshed city charter, finding that nothing in the state’s constitution bars noncitizens from voting in Montpelier’s city elections. 

The Green Mountain State is no island of noncitizen voting in the United States. Currently, five states — California, Illinois, Maryland, New York, and Vermont — and the District of Columbia allow foreign nationals to legally vote in certain local elections. Leftists across the country are stepping up efforts to grant voting privileges to foreign nationals in dozens of states where loopholes in constitutions can and have opened the door to noncitizen voting. 

Leaders of the Citizen Only Voting Amendment (COVA) movement will tell you that two little words make a big difference in preserving the “exclusive right of citizens” to vote. It all comes down to “every” and “only.” 

“You don’t want to be an ‘every’ state. You want to be an ‘only’ state,” declares Americans for Citizen Voting, a nonpartisan election integrity organization. 

‘Defending the Value of Citizenship’

Voting is a fundamental right of U.S. citizens, while foreign nationals are legally barred from voting in federal elections. But a majority of state constitutions declare that every citizen — not necessarily only a citizen — of the United States aged 18 or older is an eligible voter. That allows for some wiggle room. 

“Just because every citizen is eligible to vote doesn’t mean noncitizens are ineligible to vote,” Jack Tomczak, national field director for Americans for Citizen Voting, told me in an interview last week. ACV is leading the charge to amend state constitutions to include citizen-only voting language. 

Four states — Pennsylvania, Utah, Wyoming, and Minnesota — were founded with airtight constitutional language allowing only U.S. citizens to vote in state and local elections, according to ACV. Another seven states have added Citizen Only Voting Amendments to their constitutions by wide margins. Arizona in 1962 became the first state to approve a COVA ballot issue (66 percent to 34 percent). Six states have passed amendments in the past six years, Louisiana and Ohio most recently in 2022. Those ballot questions passed with 73 percent and 77 percent of the vote respectively. 

ACV and the COVA movement have had some successes of late, as well. Amendment resolutions in Wisconsin, Iowa, Kentucky, and Idaho have passed in their respective state legislatures and will go before voters this November. Each proposed amendment includes language that only U.S. citizens and residents can vote in national, state, or local elections. 

The South Carolina state Senate earlier this month passed a similar resolution, sending it on to the House. 

“Today South Carolina took an important step forward in defending the value of citizenship,” said Sen. Josh Kimbrell, the bill’s author, according to a story in Legal Newsline. “We will never allow a non-citizen to vote in any election in our state, but we will make it easy for legal, law-abiding citizens of the United States and of our state to vote in all our elections.”

Stalled Amendments 

The COVA movement has had its setbacks, too. Ballot bills have gotten bogged down in Mississippi, Missouri, and Kansas, Tomczak said.

In South Dakota, a Senate committee killed a bill that would have called for a referendum to change the state constitution language from “every” to “only” citizens voting. In the parlance of the South Dakota Legislature, the bill banning foreign nationals from voting was unanimously sent to the 41st legislative day, or the day after the final day of the session. It was 86’d. 

Tomczak said a state legislature dominated by Republicans didn’t see the need to change the language in the state’s constitution, and Republican Gov. Kristi Noem didn’t seem all that interested in fighting for the Citizen Only Voting Amendment. The election integrity advocate said South Dakota, through its home rule laws, is very vulnerable to municipalities opening the door to noncitizen voting. 

It’s not difficult to imagine how foreign citizens voting in local elections could wind up casting ballots in state and federal races, despite the prohibitions. 

“Confusion on Election Day leads to mistakes. If a city in South Dakota legalizes municipal noncitizen voting in the next few months I guarantee that noncitizens, through no fault of their own, will show up to the polls for the General Election,” Tomczak said.  

A New Army of Voters

 As millions of illegal aliens pour into the country under President Joe Biden’s borderless America, there is understandable concern about what that means for election integrity. But foreign nationals are already legally voting in local elections. Tomczak said an array of leftist groups are toiling, mostly in the shadows, to expand the noncitizen vote. 

“Our issue is legal noncitizen voting in municipalities. That’s real. That’s happening now. That’s a thing,” he said, noting corporate media’s rush to downplay the idea of noncitizens voting in federal elections. “Our issue is very real, and it needs to be fixed.” 

In fact, it’s going on right now in the nation’s capital. 

In February, Antonia Diaz was among the first noncitizens to register to vote in D.C. under the district’s new expansive voting law, according to a triumphant story in the left-leaning DCist. Board of Election translators and activists are assisting first-time noncitizen voters, according to the publication. Some 50,000 potential noncitizen voters reside in the nation’s capital, according to leftist group estimates. 

“Many people are undocumented. They’d like to vote or do something, but there is no opportunity. One can only listen or hear,” Diaz told the publication, referring to her previous experiences attending D.C. Council meetings as an aggrieved street vendor who could not vote in council elections. 

The story underscores what should be apparent to anyone who has watched the left in action: Activists are mobilizing a new army of voters to keep and consolidate power. 

“Washington, D.C. is actively encouraging noncitizens to vote. This is absurd! We must end noncitizen voting,” U.S. Rep. Bryan Steil, a Republican from Wisconsin, wrote on X. The post from Steil, who has led House election integrity reforms, included a D.C. Board of Elections mailer advising noncitizen residents that they are eligible to vote for mayor, attorney general, members of the D.C. Council, the State Board of Education, and other positions. 

Constitutionally, Congress has authority over D.C. local affairs. The Republican-controlled House passed a resolution to overturn the district’s new voter law. The Democrat-controlled Senate did not. 

Most Americans agree with Steil. A national poll conducted last year for Americans for Citizen Voting by RMG Research, Inc., found 75 percent of respondents were opposed to allowing foreign nationals to vote in their local elections. 

But leftists activists looking to push their agenda aren’t bothered by strong public sentiment against it. In Wisconsin, zero Democrat lawmakers voted for the resolution for the citizens-only voting amendment.

“Can you imagine door knocking and trying to explain why you voted against it?” Tomczak said. “We are encouraging citizens to ask their candidates where they stand on citizen only voting.” 

‘Prerogative of Citizenship’

While the idea of foreign nationals voting in local elections seems unacceptable to most, the movement to legalize noncitizen voting marches on. 

New York City passed a bill allowing noncitizen permanent residents to vote in municipal elections. A New York court earlier this year found the law unconstitutional; the city council is appealing that decision. In San Francisco, noncitizen parents, including illegal aliens, may vote in school board elections.

But even far-left former California Gov. Jerry Brown, who vetoed a bill in 2013 that sought to allow noncitizens to serve on juries, understood voting is exclusively a right of citizenship. Vetoing that bill, the Democrat said: “Jury service, like voting, is quintessentially a prerogative and responsibility of citizenship.” 

For the nearly three dozen states that grant voting rights to “every” and not “only” citizens, the battle over that quintessential prerogative is becoming more pitched. Tomczak said he’s confident in the COVA campaigns in many of those states. 

“But that doesn’t mean it’s going to be easy,” he said. “We have the benefit of being right and being able to easily prove that COVA is necessary. The difficult part is convincing people to do the right thing when their priorities might be pulling them in another direction.” 

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