Citizenship should mean something, especially at the ballot box. This year, New York City passed a law that allows foreigners to cast ballots in its municipal elections.
The law violates the Voting Rights Act and the Fifteenth Amendment to the Constitution. How? For starters, the sponsors of the legislation made explicit statements that law would strengthen the voting power of Hispanics and Asians.
Race cannot motivate an election law without violating federal civil rights laws.
The Public Interest Legal Foundation, of which I am president, filed a federal lawsuit against the New York City Board of Elections for violating the Fifteenth Amendment and Voting Rights Act on behalf of four Black American New York City voters. These are real people that are being discriminated against and harmed because of the city’s foreign citizens voting law.
Throughout a public hearing on the bill, then Councilman Ydanis Rodriguez spoke in favor of it in explicit racial terms.
In response to the Mayor’s Office not supporting the law he said, “in the Bronx and Brooklyn many people of color have no voting rights, when the people of this City change the color of their skin, then we change the law to allow people of color to vote.”
The most tragic part is that Black Americans fought for more than a century for the right to vote to be realized. One of the plaintiffs is descended from slaves. Her family has been in the United States for more than a century, and endured the strife and struggles of earning the right to vote. Now, a Chinese national only has to be in the United States for 30 days to vote under the New York City law. That’s not right.
Black citizens will bear the brunt of foreigners voting in New York City.
There are approximately one million foreign nationals living in New York City. Of those the overwhelming majority are Hispanic and Asian. Courts have found elections in New York City to be racially polarized, particularly in Democratic primaries.
That means Black supported candidates face more difficult prospects for victory because of a racially motivated law.
The Fifteenth Amendment, one of the Civil War amendments to the Constitution, was adopted to grant Black Americans the right to vote and protect this fundamental right from any race-based restrictions. The Voting Rights Act of 1965 ensured that Black voters had the opportunity to exercise their Fifteenth Amendment right to vote in elections free from racial discrimination.
The real foreign interference in our elections happens when we allow non-U.S. citizens to cast ballots in our elections.
Americans alone should be electing American officials. Citizenship matters. Citizenship ensures that people are invested in this country and its future. By extending the right to vote to foreign citizens, we are demeaning what it means to be a citizen of the United States.
Citizenship means that voter is committed to our shared American voyage. A citizen is a full-fledged crewmember on that voyage, and not just a temporary passenger, able to jump off and go home at any time. Immigrants from other countries have to earn the right to vote by going through the process of naturalization. An American is one who is committed to staying, and the right to vote follows that commitment.
• J. Christian Adams is the President of the Public Interest Legal Foundation, a former Justice Department attorney, and current commissioner on the United States Commission for Civil Rights.