Jewish World Review April 8, 2009 / 14 Nissan 5769
When non-U.S. citizens vote
By Glenn Garvin
http://www.JewishWorldReview.com | Pity the voters of Maine.
Once America's leading political aphorism for their reliability in picking presidential winners ("As Maine goes, so goes the nation"), they were reduced to a national wisecrack after their state was one of only two to choose Alf Landon over Franklin Roosevelt in 1936 ("As Maine goes, so goes Vermont"). Now they're about to be outsourced: The state is considering a bill that would abolish U.S. citizenship as a requirement for voting in local elections. Somehow, "as Mogadishu goes, so goes Maine" just doesn't have the same ring.
Bill LD 1195, introduced by Democrats in the state legislature last month, would allow non-U.S. citizens to vote in Maine's municipal elections. The bill is getting a sympathetic hearing from state officials who, extraordinarily, feel that Maine has been tinted by restricting voting to actual Americans. "Whenever you get more people to participate, you add legitimacy to that process," Matthew Dunlap, Maine's secretary of state, told The Portland Press Herald.
The bill would apply only to legal, resident immigrants, but that may be only a first step. The vague rationales for LD 1195 - an increase in the numbers of voters and their ethnic diversity - would certainly apply to refugees and illegal immigrants as well.
Even more expansive is the reasoning of Eric Nkusi, the executive director of a Portland immigrant-advocacy group called the Intore Club. "We pay the same taxes," he says, an argument that would even apply to Canadian tourists who stop at gas stations on their way to their annual winter sunburn in Florida.
There's nothing to stop Maine legislators from passing LD 1195 but the apparently slender thread of their own common sense. Federal law and the U.S. Constitution have little to say on the subject of local elections, and a handful of small towns already allow it - notably Takoma Park, Md., a people's-republic suburb of Washington that has also declared itself a nuclear-free zone and severed diplomatic relations with Burma.
If a presumed political adult like Maine follows suit, it may be time to start worrying. For there's a small but determined movement to abolish the link between citizenship and voting that would surely leverage victory into a national initiative.
Unlike the Maine politicians, most advocates of granting the vote to foreigners make no pretense that it's anything but a naked left-wing power grab. "Imagine the progressive possibilities in jurisdictions of high numbers of immigrants such as New York City; Los Angeles; Washington; and Chicago," says Ron Hayduk, a leftist political scientist at the City University of New York and a founder of the Immigrant Voting Project.
There's a small but determined movement to abolish the link between citizenship and voting.
Whatever you think of Hayduk's goals, his grasp of numbers is good. In nearly 900 U.S. cities, 10 percent or more of the voting-age population is composed of non-U.S.-citizens. In nearly 200, it's greater than 25 percent - and in 21 cities, it's more than 50 percent.
Don't imagine for a minute that the immigrant-voting movement will stop with seats on school boards and zoning commissions. Louis DeSipio of the University of California at Irvine and Rodolfo de la Garza of the University of Texas, whose 1998 book "Making Americans, Remaking America" was one of the seminal texts of the immigrant-voting movement, make it clear their ambitions are far more grand. "The only national race - the campaign for the presidency - is, in fact, just 50 state races in which the winner takes all of the states' electoral votes an empowered noncitizen electorate could swing the election."
Even if you like the lefty political agenda that these men pursue, their tactics bear some careful consideration. In effect, they seek to abolish the concept of American citizenship - the U.S. government would be turned into a matter of geographical whimsy, under the control of whoever happened to be physically present at a given moment.
Immigrants, legal and otherwise, play an important role in the U.S. economy. But if they're interested in voting, they need to learn the language, the history and the political culture - that is, they need to become citizens.
The odd thing is that actual immigrants, as opposed to the politicians seeking to manipulate them, show little interest in this.
Remember Takoma Park?
In most elections, their turnout is barely 10 percent; in 2007, the city council contest was a flat zero: Not a single one of the several hundred registered non-U.S.-citizens bothered to show up. Whether they have a more clear understanding of the nature of citizenship than the American chattering classes, or simply lack interest in becoming a cog in somebody else's political machine, it may be that the immigrants themselves will prevent "Remember the Maine!" from becoming a national battle cry for the second time.
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Glenn Garvin is a columnist for the Miami Herald
Glenn Garvin is a columnist for the Miami Herald
© 2009, The Miami Herald Distributed by McClatchy-Tribune Information Services