US House Voids DC Law Allowing Non-Citizens to Vote

May 25, 2024 by Tom Ramstack
US House Voids DC Law Allowing Non-Citizens to Vote
District of Columbia City Hall (Photo by Dan McCue)

WASHINGTON — The U.S. Senate is now set to decide whether the District of Columbia’s controversial law that allows non-citizens to vote in local elections survives.

The House this week approved a measure to cancel the law.

“Allowing noncitizens — including illegal aliens and foreign agents — to vote in elections dilutes the voting power of the citizen voter,” said Rep. August Pfluger, R-Texas, the bill’s sponsor.

The D.C. Council approved the Local Resident Voting Rights Amendment Act in 2022 as a means of giving everyone who lives in the nation’s capital a voice in local elections. The first election that would allow them to exercise their new voting rights is scheduled for June 4.

The law allows all adult residents who lived in the District for 30 days to vote in local elections, regardless of whether they are in the United States legally. They still are excluded from voting in federal elections.

The harshest criticism came from Republicans. They said it would exacerbate illegal immigration problems they already describe as a crisis.

“Under no circumstance should anyone other than American citizens decide any American elections,” Speaker Mike Johnson, R-La., said in a statement.

Despite the criticism, a federal court upheld the law in a ruling in March. A conservative legal group of D.C. voters had filed a lawsuit to block it.

The U.S. District Court for the District of Columbia ruling said the “plaintiffs have not alleged that they have personally been subjected to any sort of disadvantage as individual voters by virtue of the fact that noncitizens are permitted to vote, too.”

The D.C. Council invoked its authority to enact the law under the 1973 Home Rule Act, which gives the District many of the same authorities as any state.

Congress retained a right under Article 1, Section 8, Clause 17 of the Constitution to block local legislation it says interferes with federal policy. The provision grants Congress the power “to exercise exclusive legislation in all cases whatsoever” over federal districts. 

“The radical policy from the D.C. city council to allow noncitizens to decide local elections is anti-American and dilutes the constitutional rights of D.C. residents,” Johnson said.

Before the vote, D.C. Council Chairman Phil Mendelson, a Democrat, and D.C. Attorney General Brian Schwalb, also a Democrat. wrote a letter to House leadership asking them to refrain from second-guessing a local decision.

“Over the past two years, our residents have repeatedly suffered the indignity of having politicians elected elsewhere — politicians who aren’t accountable to District residents — attempt to usurp the authority of our elected officials,” the letter said.

Congressional Democrats who refused to vote against the D.C. voting law said Congress was intruding.

“At the local level, everybody has the same basic interest in efficient garbage collection, excellent public schools, and so on,” said Rep. Jamie Raskin, D-Md. 

The House vote to override the local law is part of a larger trend in recent years to more closely supervise District of Columbia legislation.

Last year, Congress voted to void a D.C. Council revision of its criminal code that would have lessened the sentences for some crimes, such as armed robbery.

Washington, D.C., is one of several cities that allows non-citizens to vote. Other cities in California, Maryland and Vermont permit non-citizen voting.

The House vote against the D.C. law was 262-to-143. Fifty-two Democrats joined the Republican majority in the vote.

Now the measure goes to the Democrat-controlled Senate, where it faces stiff opposition.

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