Let's Focus on Aliens and Jobs, Less So on Aliens and Voting

By David North on December 28, 2011

Any advocacy movement – such as the one calling for not-too-much-immigration – has limited resources and must set priorities if it is to achieve any of its goals.

Although I am a life-time elections junkie, and love to read about such trivia as the Republic of Mauritius's "best-loser" system for allocating eight seats in its 70-member parliament, I suggest that we should spend more time worrying about American workers being shouldered out of jobs by too many illegals and too many nonimmigrants, and less on aliens and voting. (My colleague Stanley Renshon, a political psychologist at the City University of New York, has written on the subject of non-citizen voting and may not agree with this assessment.)

I was reminded of this need for priorities the other day while reading that the Mayor of New Haven, Conn., John DeStefano, had advocated that all residents of his city, regardless of immigration status, be allowed to vote. The local press covered his proposal in detail.

While I am reasonably sure that Mayor DeStefano thinks that this is a good idea, and was not using it as a ploy to steer us away from other issues, I feel that the rest of us should not be distracted. In recent years, at least, alien voting in local elections has taken place in very few American locations, and when it happens, few aliens vote.

While working for the German Marshall Fund of the U.S. in the 1980s, I explored this variable pretty thoroughly in Europe, and found that while some local citizen pols, notably in Holland, were very enthusiastic about it, the aliens were less so, and the percentage of them voting was far lower than that of the citizens.

The Connecticut mayor was advocating a minimal change in the law, that all residents of his town be allowed to vote in municipal elections, not in state or federal ones. That was the situation in Europe as well.

The article on this subject in the New Haven Independent noted that a few municipalities in Maryland allow such voting for local office, notably Takoma Park, near Washington, D.C., and this is the pattern, too, for Chicago's Board of Education. Similar proposals have failed in (ultra-liberal) San Francisco and in Portland, Maine.

The story did not include the fact that once upon a time, in my hometown, Arlington, Va., in a very specialized situation, non-citizens were allowed to take part in the selection of members of the local board of education.

In Virginia school board members are chosen in a non-partisan election; in Arlington, this is an annual event as the five members of the board have staggered four-year terms. While the elections are nominally non-partisan, in some cities and counties, including Arlington, the parties run, in effect, a primary and then support the winner in the formal elections in the fall.

In Arlington, at the time, the Democrats were allied with a progressive but non-partisan organization called Arlingtonians for a Better County (ABC); the Democrats and ABC took turns running the endorsement process; when the Democrats did it, you had to be a registered voter, when ABC did it the next year, any registered voter and any ABC member could vote, and ABC did not confine its membership to citizens. Each faction agreed ahead of time to honor the other's choice.

After voting in one of the ABC selection processes, I asked the people running the event about the number of non-citizen voters. They were reluctant to talk about it but finally acknowledged that there were very few non-citizens, and most of those were wives of officials of the British Embassy (who had kids in the local schools).

My sense, then, is that it will be very difficult to secure state legislative approval for extending voting, even in municipal elections, to aliens (and even more so to illegal aliens). If it happens at all, it is unlikely to produce much in the way of alien voting, and thus is not worth much of our attention.

What I have been discussing is legal voting by non-citizens. Another discussion, again over-hyped in my eyes, is the possibility of extensive illegal voting by aliens, and the imposition of tough voting place standards to make sure that this does not happen.

Certainly, we should be careful that only citizens vote, but, again, ours is a cause with limited resources and we should be spending them on pressing for labor market policies that do not flood our labor markets with needless alien workers, driving down wages, and displacing resident workers.

There are clearly millions of illegal and nonimmigrant workers, nationwide; there may be a few thousand alien municipal voters in a few places. Let's pay attention to the former.