Republicans in Ohio are promoting a ballot measure on Nov. 8 that would prohibit noncitizens from voting in local elections, in response to what they see as a push for such access in liberal enclaves like San Francisco and New York City.
If passed, it would make Ohio the seventh state to do so, and it could boost Republican turnout in this year’s high-stakes midterm elections. The state also has a tight race for a seat in the United States Senate that will help determine the balance of power in the chamber.
Republican Secretary of State Frank LaRose, the state’s elections chief, is advocating for State Issue 2, a proposal advanced by Ohio’s Republican-led state legislature. It would change the wording of the Ohio Constitution from guaranteeing voting rights to “every citizen” of the United States who meets certain criteria to “only citizens” of the United States who do.
LaRose, who is running for reelection, said most people assumed that the 1996 prohibition on noncitizen voting in federal and state elections also applied to local elections, even though the law was silent on the subject. That is, until a “bad idea” arrived from the East and West coasts, he claims.
According to the group Americans for Citizen Voting, six states — Alabama, Arizona, Colorado, Florida, Minnesota, and North Dakota — had adopted the “only citizens” option in their state constitutions as of 2020.
A similar patriotic rallying cry, this time from the American Revolution, is used by legal immigrants fighting for the right to vote in local elections. They claim to pay taxes but are unable to vote for mayor or city council or on school levies for their children.
In modern times, only one small town in Ohio — liberal Yellow Springs, population 3,700 — has approved a charter amendment allowing noncitizen voting on local candidates and issues. The amendment was approved by referendum in 2019, but LaRose intervened, claiming that the program violated both the state and federal constitutions.
Village leaders disagreed, but they lacked the resources to file a legal challenge, according to City Council President Brian Housh. They would have argued that expanding voting to noncitizens falls within Yellow Springs’ rights to home rule and local control, he said.
At the news conference, LaRose stated that allowing noncitizens to vote would create “a huge administrative lift and burden” for local boards of elections, in addition to violating one of the key privileges of citizenship. That is something with which Housh also disagrees. According to him, the Greene County Board of Elections told the village that it was “quite confident” it could handle offering and counting ballots for the estimated 30 noncitizens who could have been added to the rolls.
Housh sees the anti-immigrant rhetoric surrounding the ballot issue as a scare tactic to get Republican voters to the polls and raise campaign funds.
Barney Rush, the mayor of Chevy Chase, Maryland, said his community in the suburbs of Washington, D.C., has a number of residents who are foreign-born and work at embassies or for international organizations — and they want a say in local life.
Noncitizen parents and guardians of schoolchildren are allowed to vote in school board elections in San Francisco. Around 13,600 students come from families where English is the second language — a possible indicator of how many thousands of people may be eligible. According to elections director John Arntz, the city doesn’t know for sure, but only 63 noncitizens have registered so far.
More than 800,000 noncitizens and “Dreamers” — those brought to the United States as children — would be able to vote in New York under the state’s new law. A similar measure is on the November ballot in Oakland, a city of about 420,000 people located across the bay from San Francisco. The District of Columbia’s city council, which has a population of over 700,000 people, voted just this month to allow noncitizen voting.
Luis Gil, a Republican running for county commissioner in central Ohio, is among those who support the Ohio amendment. Gil immigrated to the United States from Venezuela when he was 18 and claims he never believed in shortcuts to citizenship.