Opinion | There Is No Good Reason You Should Have to Be a Citizen to Vote

on Jul30
by | Comments Off on Opinion | There Is No Good Reason You Should Have to Be a Citizen to Vote |

Voting is, in a sense, a reward for becoming an American. But in truth, it’s often much harder to get a visa or green card than to then become a naturalized citizen. It took me 15 years and over $10,000 in legal fees (not to mention the cost of college) to obtain permanent residency. The citizenship test and oath feel comparatively like a piece of cake.

It shouldn’t be this onerous to emigrate. But given that it is, it would make much more sense to make residents provide proof of voter registration as a requirement for naturalization, rather than the other way around. We will have more than “earned” it. And what better way to learn about American life than to play an active role in deciding its elections?

In the absence of federal- or state-level action, local lawmakers are already free to let noncitizens decide on things like garbage pickup, parking rules and potholes. Some do. Since 1992, Takoma Park, Md., has allowed all residents to vote, regardless of their citizenship. Nine additional Maryland towns, as well as districts in Vermont and Massachusetts, have voted to re-enfranchise noncitizens. The cities of Chicago, Washington and Portland are also considering the idea, and a bill that would give New York City’s authorized immigrants voting rights has a new supermajority in the City Council.

I’ve lived in New York since 2004, but haven’t once had a chance to cast a ballot here. Last fall, I grew so frustrated that I started mailing ballots to my hometown in Switzerland. But voting in a place I haven’t lived in since I was a minor makes about as little sense as not voting in the city where I’ve lived my entire adult life.

I’m looking forward to the City Council giving me, and the other million or so friendly aliens living here, the right to vote for New York’s officials. But we should be able to vote for our representatives in Washington, too. I hope that Democrats seize their chance, and realize the power and the enthusiasm of their potential constituents. They — and we — will not regret it.

Atossa Araxia Abrahamian (@atossaaraxia) is the author of “The Cosmopolites: The Coming of the Global Citizen.” She is working on a second book about weird jurisdictions.

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