In fact, noncitizen voting has a storied history in the United States. From the nation’s founding until the 1920s, many states allowed noncitizens to vote in all elections. States amended their laws in the aftermath of World War I to take away voting rights, yet noncitizens still could participate in various city and school board elections in many areas. For example, noncitizens could vote in New York City school board elections until 2002, when the city dissolved the elected school board. For the past few years, New York City has debated whether to enfranchise the city’s 1.3 million legal noncitizens for all city elections.
Local laws and policies affect noncitizens every day. Efforts to give legal noncitizens voting rights are significant because they help provide a voice to those with a vested stake in their communities, as well as a sense of belonging. Allowing noncitizens to vote in local elections could actually increase the likelihood that they seek full citizenship. Meanwhile, federal law prohibits noncitizens from voting in federal elections, so granting voting rights for only local elections will not deter them from seeking their citizenship and the full rights it entails.