The North Carolina Constitution Should Limit Voting Rights to Citizens

  • Only U.S. citizens should be allowed to vote in North Carolina elections
  • North Carolina’s current protection of citizen-only voting is inadequate
  • We should add a citizen-only voting amendment to the North Carolina State Constitution

Who can or cannot vote is a foundational question for a republic. To counter a growing movement to allow noncitizens to vote, North Carolina should amend its constitution to state unambiguously that only American citizens can vote in North Carolina.

Voting Should Be a Right Only for Citizens

A fundamental question regarding voting rights is who a member of the American polity is and, thus, possesses the right to influence policy in our republic through voting. The still-dominant view in America is that the power of the vote should be held only by people bound to America through citizenship. Our traditions and practices clearly show that voting is a right for citizens and not just inhabitants.

Granting noncitizens the right to vote undermines the right of American citizens to exercise their authority to influence the government. It does so by diminishing the power of their votes.

The United States has explicitly gone in the opposite direction, conveying voting rights to citizens even if they currently reside outside the United States. Similarly, states, including North Carolina, also allow voters to maintain their residency for voting purposes if they are living out of state temporarily and plan to return. Likewise, someone who comes to North Carolina temporarily is not considered a resident for voting (see North Carolina General Statutes § 163‑57, subsections 2 and 3).

So, merely residing in the United States should not imply that a foreign national has voting rights here. As Alabama Secretary of State John Merrill noted, the proper way for noncitizens to join the American polity is through naturalization:

Nationalized citizens must take an oath to the U.S. Constitution, and they have shown they are dedicated to learning about our institutions, laws, and political culture. The naturalization process serves as an essential, shared experience for millions of past and present immigrants to the U.S. In comparison, non-citizens do not have this same shared experience nor have they shown the same verifiable degree of dedication to understanding and joining our national community.

We already have a means for non-Americans to gain voting rights through naturalization. There is no reason to bypass that system and diminish the voting power of Americans by extending voting rights to noncitizens.

Current Protections of Citizen-Only Voting Are Insufficient

Yet there is a movement to grant noncitizens voting rights, and, as Los Angeles Times editor Nicholas Goldberg noted, “[T]he movement to expand immigrants’ voting rights is gaining ground.”

In the most recent expansion of noncitizen voting, our nation’s capital now allows noncitizens to vote after Congress failed to stop the city government’s plan to implement noncitizen voting.

A couple of recent events in Congress highlight that political elites on the Left are also getting on board the movement to expand voting rights to noncitizens.

During a Senate hearing on the John Lewis Voting Rights Act, none of the three witnesses called by Democrats would say that they believed only citizens should be able to vote in a federal election. The deniers included representatives of prominent organizations on the Left, such as the Lawyers’ Committee for Civil Rights Under Law and the American Civil Liberties Union.

Members of Congress are also on record as supporting noncitizen voting. Last year, almost 80 percent of Democrats (162), including three members from North Carolina, voted against a House resolution that would have banned noncitizen voting in the District of Columbia.

North Carolina law currently limits voting rights to citizens, and federal law prevents noncitizens from voting in federal elections. However, temporary legislative majorities that seek to “reshape local politics forever” can brush aside those protections.

There is also a danger of activist judges expanding voting rights to noncitizens. It is not an idle threat. A federal judge dismissed a lawsuit trying to stop Washington, D.C.’s drive to grant voting rights to noncitizens. Democratic Party lawyer Marc Elias’ organization called that decision a “victory” for “noncitizen residents who will still be able to have their voices heard.”

State courts can also be vulnerable to temporary majorities granting noncitizens the right to vote. That is why Georgia Secretary of State Brad Raffensperger recently called on that state’s legislature to “take immediate action and pass a constitutional amendment ensuring that no liberal group can leverage the courts to add noncitizens to our voter rolls.”

It Is Time for a Citizen-Only Voting Amendment to the State Constitution

Our most robust protection from groups seeking to grant voting rights to noncitizens through legislation or lawsuits is unequivocal language in the state constitution stating that voting rights are limited to citizens.

The North Carolina State Constitution currently states, “Every person born in the United States and every person who has been naturalized, 18 years of age, and possessing the qualifications set out in this Article, shall be entitled to vote at any election by the people of the State, except as herein otherwise provided” (Article VI, Section 1).

The problem is that the current language, while affirming the voting rights of most adult citizens, is silent on whether noncitizens can vote. That silence can be exploited by legislators or judges into allowing noncitizen voting.

The good news is that a bill in the General Assembly would solve that problem. Senate Bill 630 would change “Every person born in the United States and every person who has been naturalized” in Article VI, Section 1 to “Only a citizen of the United States.” That change would clarify that voting is a right reserved for citizens.

If North Carolina voters were allowed to vote on a citizen-only voting amendment, there is little doubt that they would pass it. Voters in six other states, including left-leaning Colorado, have overwhelmingly voted in favor of citizen-only voting amendments. See Figure 1 for details.

Figure 1: Results of Recent Votes on Citizen-Only Voting Constitutional Amendments

The state constitution should be amended to state clearly that only United States citizens can vote in North Carolina, using language so unambiguous that even ambitious politicians or activist judges could not undermine it.