DC Law That Allows Non-Citizens To Vote ‘A Direct Attack on American Self-Government,’ Lawsuit Says

Russian and Chinese diplomats could cast ballots under new law

A voter casts their ballot at a polling station
Getty Images
March 14, 2023

Immigration reform advocates are suing the Washington, D.C., government over a law that went into effect on Tuesday that allows illegal immigrants and foreigners to vote in city elections, arguing the policy is a "direct attack on American self-government" that would let Russian and Chinese diplomats cast ballots.

The Immigration Reform Law Institute said the bill designed to give non-citizen residents a voice in local politics "automatically dilutes the votes of U.S. citizens on a massive scale." Its lawsuit, filed on behalf of a former Republican mayoral candidate, argues that the bill violates the "fundamental constitutional right to vote of the plaintiffs" while denying them "equal protection of the law."

"This law doesn’t just give foreign citizens a voice in our country’s affairs, it gives them voting power that politicians inevitably will have to respond to," said Christopher Hajec, IRLI’s director of litigation. "That transfer of power flies in the face of the clear right of the American people to govern themselves."

The lawsuit is the latest attempt to block the D.C. municipal voting change, which as of this week is the law of the land in the nation's capital. Republicans in Congress, which has budgetary authority over the city government, unsuccessfully tried to overturn the ordinance in February. It also comes as the D.C. government’s sweeping overhaul to the city's crime laws—which lowered penalties for carjacking and other crimes—was scuttled by Congress and the Biden administration.

The D.C. city council passed the voting law in October, joining a handful of nearby cities in Maryland that also allow non-citizen voting. Under the change, any resident who lives in the district for at least 30 days will have the right to vote in municipal elections—but not federal—regardless of U.S. citizenship status.

IRLI said that the law allows voting for all non-citizens, "even foreign diplomats."

"By the language of the law, the only requirement is 30 days of residence in the city, so that is the concern by critics," said a spokesman for IRLI.

The D.C. Board of Elections did not respond to a request for comment on the legal challenge, or on whether foreign diplomats would be permitted to vote under the law. The Chinese and Russian embassies did not respond to requests for comment.

The law could extend the vote to 42,000 non-citizens, according to an estimate from the Center for Immigration Studies, which cited 2021 Census data.

Opponents of the D.C. law say that non-citizens make up over 10 percent of the city population and could have a significant impact on elections.

Similar laws have faced legal challenges in other states. New York’s Supreme Court struck down a New York City ordinance last summer after determining that it violated the state’s constitution.