Tuesday, October 19, 2010

Who Has the Right to Vote?

You may have read a recent New York Times article discussing permanent US residents who are being deported for fraudulent voting. The reporter points out that many of these people, including Joseph E. Joseph, who's profiled in the article,weren't aware that they couldn't vote. As a greencard holder, Mr. Joseph saw it as his civic duty to participate in the electoral process. He was registered to vote in Brooklyn, where no one asked him for proof of citizenship or told him it was required. He's voted in every presidential election since 1992.

You may be surprised to know that you didn't always have to be a US citizen in order to vote in the nation's elections. It was not until 1804 that New York required residents to be citizens in order to vote. And from 1776 to 1920, non-citizens voted in local, state, and even national elections in 22 states and federal territories, and held public offices, such as alderman, coroner, and school board member.

New York State’s original constitution of 1777 conferred suffrage rights on “every male inhabitant of full age” who met property qualifications. Between 1700 and 1804, debates over suffrage centered on contentious issues of property and race, not citizenship. The principles embodied by Revolution-era mottos like “no taxation without representation” made non-citizen voting a democratic practice tied to notions of residency.

Why did non-citizens lose the right to vote?

Many citizens came to believe that property-less non-citizens would vote irresponsibly, electing substandard governments that destabilized property rights. The massive influx of immigrants at the turn of the 20th century triggered a wave of nativist sentiment that bolstered the movement to strip non-citizens of voting rights. New York and other States gradually passed laws that required citizenship as a prerequisite for voting.

Today, some immigrant community groups are attempting to obtain the right to vote in local elections for New York City. These groups argue that, although they are not citizens, immigrants pay taxes, send their children to public schools and contribute to society in many other ways. They should therefore be able to take part in governing their own communities.

What do you think? Should non-citizens be granted the right to vote or should citizenship remain a requirement for voting?

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