Allowing Non-Americans To Vote Would 'Enrich' the 'Concept of Citizenship,' Dem Councilwoman Says

Comment from Elizabeth Warren alum comes as Boston debates whether to permit noncitizens to vote in local elections

A polling place in Boston / Getty Images
December 13, 2022

Allowing immigrants without American citizenship to vote would "enrich" the "concept of citizenship," a Boston Democratic councilwoman said on Monday.

"Immigrants with legal status live here, pay taxes, are members of this body politic, and should be able to exercise their right to vote," Ruthzee Louijeune said in a city council hearing. "Far from diluting the concept of citizenship, noncitizen voting would enrich it by fully incorporating immigrants."

Louijeune, a Harvard Law School graduate who served as senior counsel for Sen. Elizabeth Warren's (D., Mass.) 2020 presidential campaign, made the comments as the city council debates whether to open local elections to noncitizen residents, including Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals recipients, Temporary Protected Status receivers, and other visa holders.

If the measure passes, Boston will become the largest city in the country to allow noncitizens to vote after state courts struck down similar policies in New York City and San Francisco. The Democratic cities' push to expand voting rights to noncitizens comes as the Biden administration in November extended Temporary Protected Status to hundreds of thousands of migrants from Haiti, El Salvador, Nicaragua, Sudan, Honduras, and Nepal amid record illegal immigration at the southern border.

Republicans in recent years have tried to block Democratic efforts to expand noncitizen voting, arguing that it undermines U.S. citizenship and exposes the country to foreign influence. After Washington, D.C., city council members in October passed a bill to allow illegal immigrants to vote in local elections, Sen. Ted Cruz (R., Texas) introduced legislation to prohibit the city from enforcing the measure, noting that it would permit foreign workers at embassies to vote.

"Allowing noncitizens and illegal immigrants to vote in our elections opens our country up to foreign influence and allows those who are openly violating U.S. law or even working for hostile foreign governments to take advantage," Cruz said.

Sen. Marco Rubio (R., Fla.) last year similarly introduced a bill that would bar federal funding to cities and states that permit noncitizens to vote. While federal law prohibits noncitizens from voting in federal elections, it does not address state or local elections. Eleven municipalities in Maryland and two in Vermont allow noncitizen voting. State judges ruled earlier this year that New York City's and San Francisco's voting measures violated their respective state constitutions.

"The New York State Constitution expressly states that citizens meeting the age and residency requirements are entitled to register and vote in elections," New York State Supreme Court justice Ralph Porzio wrote in his ruling. "There is no statutory ability for the City of New York to issue inconsistent laws permitting noncitizens to vote."

Boston's debate over noncitizen voting comes after Massachusettsans in November voted by more than 7 points to grant illegal immigrants driver's licenses.

The Boston City Council also approved a measure earlier this month to allow 16 and 17 year olds to vote in local elections. Councilwoman Julia Mejia (D.) said teenagers should be able to vote because they often work and are on the "front lines protesting." The measure is awaiting Democratic mayor Michelle Wu's signature. Then it will go to the Massachusetts state house for approval.