By George Albert Brown
On June 21, 1788, when the Constitution came into effect, there was no requirement that US voters be citizens.
Believe it or not, there still isn’t to this day.
In colonial America, when Britain ruled the land, most colonies allowed non-British citizens to vote if they were residents of the colony. After the Constitution, the right to vote was determined by the states — and, during a significant portion of the US’s history, states have extended that right to noncitizens.
Residence, not citizenship, was the requirement in almost all of the states until the war of 1812, when a nationalist reaction to British residents in the US voting led to some states adopting citizenship requirements. As the Civil War approached, Southern states also began enacting citizenship requirements because they felt immigrants, being less “civilized and refined”, were necessarily opposed to slavery.
In the meantime, though, going in the opposite direction, many new midwestern and western states explicitly allowed non-citizen residents to vote, in the hope that this would attract more immigrants, though some limited voting to non-citizen residents who declared that they intended to become citizens. Not for these states the paranoia about the less civilized and refined.
By the mid- to late-19th Century, about half the states allowed noncitizen residents to vote in some circumstances. But rapidly increasing immigration during that period onwards plus the nationalist backlash engendered by the First World War eventually resulted in all states requiring citizenship to vote in federal and statewide elections. Alabama, in 1926, was the last.
It wasn’t until 1996 that the federal government finally put its oar in, prohibiting for the first time noncitizens from voting in federal elections. Given that no noncitizen had been legally able to vote in federal elections for seventy years (since 1926 when Arkansas finally changed their mind), this prohibition can be seen as akin to those courageous rural-state legislatures nowadays prohibiting the enactment of Sharia Law. It’s also instructive to see the strict-constructionist Republican Congress at the time happy to violate the Constitution’s explicit statement that the right to vote was to be left up to the states, just so the Republican Party could brag to their voters that they, at least, were “doing something” about the about those damn immigrants. (Actually, to be fair, the Republicans did, as part of the omnibus bill, eliminate due process from the overwhelming majority of immigrant removal cases, curtailed equitable relief from removal, and greatly expanded the offenses that could lead to deportation, including for long term legal permanent residents. Red meat to their nativist supporters.)
Notwithstanding such federal- and state-level, anti-immigrant virtue signaling, however, some localities in the US still allow non-citizens to vote in their elections. I guess at the local level relations between citizens and resident noncitizens can be more human.
Which brings us to New Zealand.
H.L. Mencken once said that American politicians were either idiots or charlatans disguised as idiots in order to win the public confidence. Compared to this view of American politicians, New Zealand’s politicians are the model of intelligence, reasonableness, and forethought. When it comes to voting, New Zealand follows the main principle that motivated the American Revolutionary War, a principle long abandoned by the current, more narrow-minded US citizenry: “No taxation without representation.”
In New Zealand, a noncitizen legal permanent resident (the equivalent of the US green card holder) is necessarily subject to tax (also like a US green card holder), and thus it follows from the principle of no taxation without representation that such noncitizen permanent resident should be allowed to vote.
And why not?
Please, no hypocrites or humbugs need reply.