Ohio seeks to become the last state to ban non-citizen voting

COLUMBUS, Ohio (AP) — Republicans in Ohio are promoting a measure in the Nov. 8 ballot that would bar noncitizens from voting in local elections, hitting back at what they see as a push for a such access in liberal enclaves such as San Francisco and New York City.

That would make Ohio the seventh state to take such a step if it passes and could boost turnout among GOP voters in this year’s high-stakes midterm elections. The state also has a tight race for a seat that will help determine the balance of power in the US Senate.

Republican Secretary of State Frank LaRose, the state’s chief election officer, is championing State Question 2, a proposal put forward by Ohio’s GOP-led state legislature. It would make a tiny but essential wording change to the Ohio Constitution, from guaranteeing the right to vote to “every citizen” of the United States who meets certain criteria to “only citizens” of the United States who make.

LaRose, who is running for reelection, said most people had assumed that a ban in place since 1996 on noncitizen voting in federal and state elections also applied to local elections, although the law be silent on the matter. That was, until a “bad idea” crept in from the east and west coasts, he said.

“It’s a bad idea to ruthlessly give the right to vote to people who haven’t earned it,” LaRose said at a press conference in October touting the issue. “I think citizenship has value, citizenship has status. So many of our ancestors worked so hard to earn this citizenship.

In 2020, six states – Alabama, Arizona, Colorado, Florida, Minnesota and North Dakota – adopted the “sole citizens” alternative in their state constitutions, according to the Americans for Citizen group. Voting.

Legal immigrants fighting for the right to vote in local elections invoke a similar patriotic rallying cry, this one from the American Revolution. They say they pay taxes but cannot vote on positions such as mayor or city council or on levies for their children’s schools.

“We’re all taxpayers,” said Melissa John, a New York City teacher and green card holder who fought for the city’s noncitizen voting rights law, which passed in January but has since been suspended by a judge.

“So if my money is going to be invested in a system to fund and bring about change in my immediate community, or wherever I teach, work, or socialize, then I – and other people like me – should be able to do hear our voice behind individuals who fit your philosophy,” she said.

In Ohio, only one modern-day small town — liberal Yellow Springs of 3,700 — has approved a charter amendment allowing noncitizens to vote on local candidates and issues. The amendment passed by referendum in 2019, but was stopped by LaRose, who claimed the program violated both the state and federal constitutions.

Village chiefs disagreed, City Council Speaker Brian Housh said, but they lacked the resources to mount a legal challenge. They would have argued that expanding the vote to noncitizens falls within Yellow Springs’ right to self-reliance and local control, he said.

LaRose said at the press conference that in addition to challenging one of the main privileges of citizenship, allowing non-citizens to vote would create “a huge administrative burden” for local election commissions. That’s something Housh doesn’t agree with either. He said the Greene County Board of Elections told the village it was “pretty confident” it could handle the supply and counting of ballots for the approximately 30 non-citizens who may have been added to lists.

Housh views anti-immigrant rhetoric around the ballot issue as a scaremongering tactic to drive GOP voters to the polls and generate campaign contributions.

“We have been accused by Secretary LaRose of disrupting the election process and being un-American,” Housh said. “I get it. Most communities in Ohio probably wouldn’t allow non-US citizen residents to vote. But it fits our community. Our citizens appreciate that diversity and believe that people who contribute to the community should be represented. .

Yellow Springs was modeled after Maryland, which has 11 of 15 U.S. municipalities that have approved noncitizen voting. New York, San Francisco and two cities in Vermont round out the list.

Barney Rush, the mayor of Chevy Chase, Maryland, said his suburban Washington, DC community has a number of foreign-born residents working in embassies or international organizations — and that they wanted to have a say in local life.

“They are long-time residents of the city, they have a great interest in the affairs of the city, many of them owned property and so they had a vested interest in how the city behaved,” he said. he declared. “For us, it was just about recognizing the people living in the city.”

He estimated around 20 non-citizens had been added to the lists in a community of around 1,000 homes, and said the program had been uneventful since its adoption in 2018.

What worries Republicans is that a trend that started in a few small towns has begun to spread to big cities.

San Francisco allows non-citizen parents and guardians of school children to vote in school board races. About 13,600 students come from families whose second language is English – a possible indicator of the number of thousands of people who could be eligible. The city doesn’t know for sure, Electoral Officer John Arntz said, but so far only 63 noncitizens have registered.

In New York, more than 800,000 non-citizens and “dreamers” — those brought to the United States as children — would be eligible to vote under his new law. A similar proposal is on the November ballot in Oakland, a city of about 420,000 people across the bay from San Francisco. The City Council for the District of Columbia, a city of more than 700,000 people, voted this month to allow noncitizen voting.

State Rep. Bill Seitz, one of the Republican co-sponsors of the Ohio legislation that pushed the ban on noncitizens on the ballot, said it was especially important for Ohio to act because its cities have the capacity to tax people who work, but do not. to live.

“So if these cities take up the liberal progressive mantra of allowing non-citizens to vote, they will be able to vote not only in their local elections, but also on raising taxes to be paid by non-resident workers who go in town for work,” he said. . “That’s why all of us – people in the township, people in the unincorporated area, people in the rural area – better wake up.”

Among the U.S. citizens supporting the Ohio amendment is Luis Gil, a Republican running for county commissioner in central Ohio. Gil left Venezuela for the United States when he was 18 and said he never believed in shortcuts to the privileges of citizenship.

“Most immigrants, we don’t think that way,” he said at LaRose’s press conference. “We know we have to deserve this. We have to follow the same rules as everyone else, that’s all.

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