Panel Transcipt: Allowing Non-Citizens to Vote? Why Not

By Mark Krikorian, Stanley Renshon, John Fund, and Michael Barone on September 18, 2008
Related: Report

Monday, September 15, 2008


Transcript by
Federal News Service
Washington, D.C.


MARK KRIKORIAN: Good morning. My name is Mark Krikorian. I'm executive director of the Center for Immigration Studies. There's been a lot of discussion on non-citizen voting over the past several years. There were widespread allegations of foreign citizens voting fraudulently in a 1996 election in California between Bob Dornan and Loretta Sanchez. That was sort of the issue – the highest profile non-citizen voting controversy that's – that we've seen in the past few years. Hans von Spakovsky, who's actually here in the audience, has written a paper on this for the Heritage Foundation. But the important point here is that all of this discussion has been about fraudulent non-citizen voting; in other words, non-citizens voting contrary to the law; they're not supposed to be voting.

The paper we're releasing today is about what I would consider a deeper and maybe more significant issue which is the push to actually change the rule so that non-citizens could vote legally. This would actually change the system rather than be an example of violations of the rules. The author will present his comments first and then we'll have reaction and discussion from two discussants. The author of the report is Stanley Renshon. He's a political scientist at City University of New York Graduate Center and a certified psychoanalyst, which for me I always sort of figure is he shrinking my head anytime he's – I'm talking to him.

STANLEY RENSHON: You're beyond shrinkage, Mark.


MR. KRIKORIAN: He's author of a number of award-winning books including two presidential biographies of the first Clinton term and the first Bush term, and also a book called “The 50 Percent American” on dual citizenship, which grew out of work on dual citizenship that the center – that he had published with the center.

After Dr. Renshon gives a summary of his – of this paper, John Fund and Michael Barone will give us some thoughts and reactions and discussion. John Fund is a writer for The Wall Street Journal, writes on politics, and most recently has a book called “Stealing Elections.” The paperback – revised and updated paperback version is out I believe today, right?


MR. KRIKORIAN: Today is the publication date. He addresses the non-citizen voting issue – again, the fraudulent part of it – to some degree; but the book is about the broader issue of voter fraud.

And our second discussant, Michael Barone, who is a writer for U.S. News and World Report, you've seen him on television and also is probably the world's leading authority on the minutiae of American politics, co-author of the Almanac of American Politics. I used to think I was – well, I am kind of a geography nerd and a flag nerd and I can tell you the original name of the capital of Gambia, but Michael's mastery of the details of American politics is way beyond anything I know of geography or flags, so we're very happy to have him.

So we'll start with Stanley, then John, then Michael. Stanley?

MR. RENSHON: Thank you, Mark. I'd like to begin my remarks with the fact that, like the Center for Immigration Studies, I support immigration in the public interest. I think that most new immigrants and Americans share a common psychology of ambition and a desire to improve their circumstances. And one of the major problems or issues that this country faces is how to integrate the unprecedented number of illegal immigrants into the American national community.

That said, we're here today to discuss a series of legislative proposals that would give non-citizens the legal right to vote. Those proposals are such that even the staunchest defenders say it is an idea that will appear quite radical to many Americans. And another advocate has written, well, for the majority of Americans the idea of non-citizen voting provokes a sense of outrage, an instinctive reaction that it's just plain wrong. And I can tell you in my travels I ask about this all the time and it's absolutely true.

So the question then arises, why are we here discussing it today? And the answer is that in past years there's been a concerted effort that is gathering force to allow new immigrants to come to the United States and vote without becoming citizens. It's an idea mounted by an alliance of liberal – or if you prefer, conservative – academics and law professors.

MR. KRIKORIAN: Progressive.

MR. RENSHON: Oh, progressive. Thank you. Local and state political leaders, more often associated with the Democratic Party, or other progressive parties like the Greens, and community and integration activists. They are working in tandem to try to decouple the legal standing to vote from American citizenship. It is a debate which the New York Times says is gathering energy.

Now, advocates for this position use many arguments, arguments about fairness, representation, expanding democracy, increasing participation, welcoming new immigrants, and so on. They buttress their claims with the fact that several foreign countries now allow immigrants to vote in local elections, that some American states and territories once allowed it early in our history, and that some localities allow it now. Among the strategies they use they tout the supposed benefits that will accrue to immigrants, citizen and the country more generally if non-citizens are allowed to vote.

The list of virtues that will come about is a long one. In just one article, one author claims 30 separate benefits. In another that I read, it turned up 11 different ones, among them are such things as preventing riots, overcoming participation barriers, educating immigrants to our civic culture, increasing naturalization rates, reducing alienization, and so on. I have a list of all of these.

Now, what unites almost every single one of these claims is the absolute lack of evidence for any of them. Yet in fact there are a number of data-rich sources in the world, including one local community right next door in Takoma Park, Washington, that have allowed non-citizens to vote since 1991. Now, it's critical to see whether or not in those places where it is allowed it's really panned out as expected because if it hasn't then all of the virtues claimed for allowing non-citizens to vote simply become inconsistent with the evidence. Not surprisingly, advocates have chosen not to look at this evidence, for reasons that will become fairly clear in a second.

Let's take a look at Takoma Park, Washington, where legal and illegal immigrants have – Maryland. Washington. Yes, it's so close, I guess. Where legal and illegal immigrants have been allowed to vote since 1991. I have more figures in the paper but here are just some. In 1995, 20 out of 195 registered aliens voted; that's 10 percent. In 1997 the figure was 71 out of 287. In 1999 it was 41 out of 334. In 2001 it was 41 out of 475. And most recently in 2003 it was 14 people out of 460. That's 97 percent of those who were registered didn't vote.

Now, you have to understand that these numbers underestimate the lack of interest among non-citizens in doing this because it only gives you the number of people who registered to vote. It doesn't give you the number of people who are non-citizens who could have registered to vote but chose not to do so.

Well, I have some comparable data from Europe and I'd be happy to discuss that if anybody wants to hear it later on. But anybody who delves into the arguments in favor of giving non-citizens the right to vote soon encounters iconic terms like "justice," "fairness," and "democracy." Advocates write that allowing non-citizens to vote is quote/unquote "required" by the principles of democratic legitimacy. Another says it's normatively imperative. Another simply says, well, if non-citizens aren't allowed to vote it's just a form of tyranny. Earlier this month at a rally in New York City people were – went one better, one person from the local government said, well, anybody who's against non-citizen voting is in fact a racist.

Advocates argue that it's only fair to give non-citizens the vote since they already pay taxes and can serve in the military; no taxation without representation, consent of the governed, and so on. These arguments seem reasonable. To advocates they seem compelling. Yet a closer look at each suggests they are neither.

Consider fairness. The paying taxes argument assumes that non-citizens get nothing for their taxes and therefore the vote must be seen as a compensation for that. However, in truth immigrants from almost every country who come here enjoy an immediate rise in their standard of living because of this country's advanced infrastructure: hospitals, electricity, paved roads, communications, and not to mention freedom and opportunity. They also get many services for their taxes like public transportation, free public education, police and trash collection.

But what about serving in the armed forces? If they serve – if they can serve, why can't they vote? Well, the difference here is between can and must. We've had a volunteer army for many years now. Non-citizens can serve if they volunteer but they are not required to serve as part of the citizenship process or the green card process. When they do volunteer, they earn this country's gratitude and, by presidential order, a shortening of the time period that they must wait before they become citizens. Well, doesn't voting help immigrants learn about our new country – their new country? Well, perhaps that's true. But on the other hand, no law bars non-citizens from learning democracy in civic organizations or in political parties. No law keeps them from joining unions or speaking out in public forums. Indeed, no law bars them from holding responsible positions within all these groups. In all of these and many other ways, legal residents can learn a lot about their new country and its civic traditions without the added issue of giving them the right to vote.

Well, what about representation? Isn't it bad for democracy and against American principles that so many people are unrepresented? Well, the first problem with this argument is that it is a condition that is temporary and wholly remedied by the passage of time, a little patience, and the desire to become part of the American community. Second, the very fact that advocates are pushing for non-citizenship voting undercuts the argument that this group's interests are not represented. It's also the case that hundreds of thousands of potential voters would certainly get any leader's attention, and it has. The more immigrants take advantage of the new opportunities to participate in civic life, the more their voices will be heard.

And finally, there is the issue of the consent of the governed. Advocates consider this a one-way street naturally leading to the idea that non-citizens should be able to vote. But there's another way to look at it. Those who are applying for a green card certainly know the five-year naturalization rule. They have said by saying they want to come here that they are willing to wait for those five years and become a citizen. They have been told ahead of time and given their consent.

Now, another thing that advocates say in trying to push this is that local voters, regardless of nationality, are all interested in the basics of life: identical interests in trash collection, good public schools, speedy road repair and so forth. I take this argument up at some length and I can summarize my response by saying unequivocally that Takoma Park and other small communities are not communities like New York City or San Francisco or Los Angeles or Houston, other areas where this has been pushed forward. Takoma Park, Maryland, for example, is an affluent suburban and liberal enclave with a population of 17,000. New York, by contrast, is home to over eight million people. It's probably true that at some level both groups of people would like to have low crime rates, beautiful parks and efficient trash collection. However, given New York's size and diversity, its status as an international city and major urban center, both the scope of the issues with which it must deal and their complexity are of necessity a wholly different caliber. The same is true of these other citizens – communities.

Consider crime. Certainly both groups want to have a community with low crime, yet wide ranges of affluence, education and law-abidingness make crime and crime prevention a very tricky issue in major urban settings. How many gang shootings were there in Takoma Park last year, or murders? How many assaults? How many minority neighborhoods does Takoma Park have where police saturation becomes a major political issue as it has in New York?

Certainly everybody wants to have good schools, but does Takoma Park worry about chronic and severe overcrowding because of the dramatic rise in a new immigrant population? Does Takoma Park have highly charged debates about bilingual education? Does it have contentious debates about civics curriculum and whether the goal of such curriculum is to maintain ethnic heritage or allow students a new understanding of their new home?

All of these things have been debated in major urban areas and so the idea of, well, we're all interested in trash collection really doesn't hold much water.

Now, there are several hard questions that advocates have yet to answer really well. Who is it that would be allowed to vote actually? Would it be legal resident aliens? Illegal aliens? What about different kinds of people here on work visas or tourists? Exactly how long would people need to be here before they would be allowed to vote? Some have said one month. Some had said three months. Some have said six months. Some have said a year, two years. In all, all of these different proposals leave us not knowing which of these many variations we would have. Would the voting be for local, state or national? People often say, well, jeez, it's just about local politics and having a voice there; but some people want to have a voice in state politics and of course the complication is that there's a very direct relationship between being able to vote in a state and in a national election.

To me the primary problem with all of theses is that they require nothing of new immigrants coming into the country that have traditionally been thought of as things that you would need to do. Knowing English; knowing about American history and government; having a good character, which good only means you haven't gotten a felony conviction; spending an amount of time in the United States in order to get to know it better and understand it; and being able and willing to commit yourself publicly to your new home while symbolically placing your allegiances to your old country in a position of less prominence. All of these things would seem to be legitimate requests to make of people who say they want to share in our community – the American community – and shape that community's destiny through having the vote.

Now, it's true that other countries, primarily in Europe, allow non-citizens to vote in local elections. But what people don't often tell you in addition is that they impose a lot of requirements. Just here are a few. In Switzerland you have to wait five years. In Uruguay it's 15 years. In Venezuela it's 10 years. In Finland it's four years. And I could go on and on. In addition, many of these countries impose nationality requirements on top of the residency requirements. So the combination makes it look like that five years in the United States is not so awful and not so difficult to do.

It's true that the United States once did allow immigrants to vote on coming into the country. However, this was always the exception to the rule and it was generally done in new states and territories to attract people to come to help develop the land. That movement, the movement to end such practices, began with Illinois in 1848, and by the beginning of the century – the turn of the century – it was completely abandoned. And by the way, just another sort of look in at the idea of democracy, the practice of non-citizen voting was ended by legislation and referendum. It was duly debated and passed by the people's representatives and it was signed into law by their governors. That too is called democracy.

Now, the push for this comes primarily from people who call themselves progressives. And you can't help but notice when you get into this that most progressives seem to gravitate towards the Democratic Party. Now, advocates dismiss this concern. They say, oh, well, you shouldn't be worried about this; it's about democracy, not about progressive politics. But one of the chief authors of some of these possibilities, Ron Hayduk – whom I've debated a couple of times – says this in print: "Imagine the progressive possibilities in jurisdictions of high numbers of immigrants such as New York City; Los Angeles; Washington, D.C.; and Chicago, as well as in some states if non-citizens are re-enfranchised."

Well, let's think about that. What kind of politics could we look forward to if that indeed happened? And the answer, says Hayduk, is very clear. We would restore the rights of ex-felons. We would make it easier for illegal immigrants to obtain driver's licenses. We would speed up the naturalization process. We would enact real amnesty. We would eliminate racial profiling and hate crimes. We would undo state power to reform welfare. We would support bilingual education, reform – champion affirmative action and so on. These are quotes. These are not my characterizations.

Well, what would happen, do you think, if the progressives got their wish and all of these things happened? What would happen if they were able to successfully accomplish their goals and non-citizens were allowed to vote? How would American citizens feel about their city, state and local government elections and the process and the policies that come up, being decided by people who have not yet joined the community of citizenship and might never do so? What if the center of gravity did shift decisively to the left as new voters – as advocates hoped?

Well, one thought experiment is to say that I think Americans would be profoundly upset and angry about having their politics turned on its head by people who have not yet become part of the American political community. And I think if that were to happen, following along with this thought experiment, that support for legal immigration would take a nosedive. The legitimate question which is as yet unanswered by advocates is whether such political trauma is really necessary.

The United States is not a country that keeps immigration to a minimum. It takes in more people from more countries every year than any other country on earth. It does not base its citizenship on blood or lineage as other countries do, keeping immigrants in a perpetual state of limbo. It offers citizenship to almost every legal immigrant after a modest waiting period and it offers immigrants many ways to take part in politics other than voting before they become citizens.

My conclusion about this is pretty clear. The Constitution, the Congress and the courts have enshrined voting as a central core, indispensable element of American citizenship and democracy. That's because citizenship itself is one of the major unifying mechanisms of "e pluribus unum.” When citizenship loses its value – and it would if voting were not an earned privilege – a critical tie that helps bind this diverse country together would be lost.

In choosing to enter the naturalization process, immigrants demonstrate an interest in becoming full members of the American national community, as well as a willingness to spend the time and effort necessary to do so. That process also provides one of the few uniform experiences for non-school aged new immigrants in becoming an American. Non-citizen voting in all these respects is a radical and unnecessary answer to a problem that is not very pressing.

Thank you.

MR. KRIKORIAN: Thank you, Stanley. Your point that the imposition of non-citizen voting would reduce support for legal immigration is almost tempting to some degree for me, but the point here I wanted to make before we move on to the discussants is that we're talking about immigrant policy, which is what do we do with non-citizens who are here among us? And the voting issue is one part of that. As opposed to immigration policy, which is who do we take and how many do we take? And we probably have a wide variety of views here on that immigration policy issue, but we're talking about immigrant policy.

So John and then Mike.

MR. FUND: Thank you. In his classic book in 1988 the economist Thomas Sowell – the book was called “Conflict of Visions: The Ideological Origins of Political Struggles” – he noted the important role that social visions play in our thinking. By vision he meant a fundamental sense of how – the way the world works. These visions explain so often in life how the same people continue to line up on the same sides of different issues. He maintained that conflicts of visions dominate history far more than we give them credit; quote, "We will do almost anything for our visions except think about them," unquote.

Sowell identified two distinct visions that shape many of the debates on controversial issues in this country. The first he calls the unconstrained vision of human nature and the second he called the constrained vision of human nature. Those with an unconstrained vision think that if we want a society where people are enlightened, prosperous and equal we must develop programs to accomplish those goals and work to implement them. The focus is on results, perhaps more than outcomes. That would include making sure as many people as possible vote, thus animating the ideals of democracy. The rule of law is made secondary to a rule of vision, perhaps.

Now, on the issue of non-citizen voting I think we have to be clear. And I think the professor's paper makes this clear. Right now federal law prevents voting by non-citizens in federal and state elections. That's why Takoma Park has voting for its local elections but not the state of Maryland and not Montgomery County or Prince George's County. So that's an enormous obstacle. However, I think it's an obstacle that I think is being slowly undermined by this push for non-citizen voting on the local level.

But let's presume that some cities want to do this because they have the right to have this for non-citizens in municipal elections. This creates, as Hans von Spakovsky – a former member of the Federal Election Commission who's in the audience – points out, this creates an almost impossible logistical barrier. Right now all voter registration lists are merged. There's no one voter registration list. In fact, the recent Help America Vote Act has mandated that every state must keep one centralized voter registration list.

Most cities and most municipalities vote at the same time as federal and state elections are held. There are exceptions. School bond measures for various idiosyncratic reasons often take place in the spring before school lets out. Some mayor elections, such as Los Angeles, take place at odd times. But the vast majority of cities and states hold elections for local office at the same time as federal and state. This would necessitate, if you're going to follow federal law, a completely separate voter registration list and a completely separate set of ballots. You'd have to have an enormous new bureaucracy created and, frankly, an enormous amount of confusion. So just as a practical matter I think we have a barrier here.

In addition, this is something which I think does great against the basic sense of American exceptionalism and also American uniqueness. We believe our country is special. We welcome people from all over the world. We attract people from all over the world. We do not have terribly onerous laws, as the professor points out – Professor Renshon points out – on people becoming citizens. My mother came over from Europe and had to wait five years. She did not feel that that was an insuperable barrier.

Most Americans feel that these restrictions are reasonable. In San Francisco – I grew up outside of San Francisco. I've lived in San Francisco for many years. San Francisco is perhaps the most progressive city in the country. President Bush won an enormous 13 percent of the vote there in 2004 and some people believe that that was overstating his support. Just random markings on the ballot might have reported him a greater percentage.

But in 2004 when the San Francisco Board of Supervisors placed a measure on the ballot that would have allowed non-citizens to vote in school board races it created an uproar. The arguments for this were what you've heard before. Matt Gonzalez, the supervisor who was the proposal's chief sponsor, said, quote, "Candidates who run for school board ought to have to campaign in immigrant communities that are filling the public schools with kids," and there were other arguments along that line. Even in San Francisco this proposal lost. If it loses in San Francisco, it will lose everywhere; let's be clear. So this is not something that achieves popular support.

In addition, New York City, where this has become most relevant because a few years ago the current governor of New York, David Paterson, when he was a state senator introduced a bill that would have facilitated non-citizen voting – he has since re-thought that position and no longer supports it, but New York City is perhaps the focal point of this movement now. Mayor Michael Bloomberg is perhaps the most immigrant-friendly mayor in America. He has urged that law enforcement officers not be allowed to ask criminal suspects or others that they question their immigrant status. He has supported the city's sanctuary policies. He has been in favor of immigrant rights both for legal immigrants and illegal immigrants consistently. Even he thinks this is a crazy idea, calls it absurd and will undermine support for both legal and illegal immigration in this country.

On the illegal immigration part, I certainly hope it would undermine that. I do not support illegal immigration. On the legal immigration front I think this would be a disaster because it would bring out the most nativistic and the most hostile elements in our thinking. In general this is one of the worst ideas I've ever heard in the public politic.


MR. KRIKORIAN: That's saying something.

MR. FUND: And it is one that defies common sense. I think that if I were to design a public policy proposal that would undermine support for immigrants in this country, in sympathy for immigrants in this country, it would be this one because it is a classic red cape hurled in front of a bull. It would I think exacerbate tensions in this country. We don't need this. And frankly – and I think the most interesting statistic in Professor Renshon's paper is this. Where is the evidence that this is a priority for non-citizens? Where are the demonstrations for this? Where is the voter participation for this?

Most people who come here to work in this country have other priorities. It doesn't mean they won't ultimately become interested in our politics, but let's be clear this is a political movement. The professor hinted at some of the political motivations. I'll be more explicit.

In my book “Stealing Elections,” which is being published today, I quoted a former congressman who says, "If we can't have a real majority in this country for my views, we'll create a new majority." And the new majority can come up with all kinds of interesting voter categories, including people who aren't eligible to vote, including felons who aren't eligible to vote depending on the state, including people who have otherwise been disenfranchised, and frankly non-citizens. This is a dangerous, dangerous proposal because I think it – pursued to its natural course it tends to undermine the legitimacy of our election process and we have enough problems post-Florida 2000 in that respect.

So in conclusion, if even the residents of San Francisco think this is a crazy idea I think the rest of us should take some kind of guidance from them.

MR. KRIKORIAN: Thank you, John. Thank you. Michael?

MICHAEL BARONE: Well, thank you for that endorsement of San Francisco. As I listen to the interesting discussion of Stanley Renshon and John Fund a phrase – a hackneyed old phrase – comes into my mind, "fish in a barrel." This, as John Fund says, is a very bad idea and in fact the best argument I've been able to construct for non-citizen voting is that non-citizens can't be as crazy as Takoma Park citizens. Takoma Park, as you may know, has declared itself a nuclear-free zone and so consequently if we are attacked by nuclear weapons I guess the thing for me to do is to drive five miles to Takoma Park where I will be safe, by virtue of the local ordinance.

This is – you know, I think John Fund has made it clear that in effect this proposal is a tactic by people who want to increase the number of votes cast on their side of issues, and in the absence of interested citizens are willing to try and find any votes they can. They're not tethered to the idea that the person has to be alive or a citizen or anything else; any possible pretext for adding a vote to the total is fine by them. And so I think it's – in some sense, you know – I'd be curious about Stanley's view on this but I think these advocates in some ways are basically insincere manipulators who are just out to increase the number of votes on their side of issues. And they're talking about greater participation. I've always asked the question of why do we assume the quality of the outcome is improved by the participation of the indifferent? I'm very happy to have everybody who's eligible to vote, vote, but I'm not sure that higher turnout is necessarily a good thing. Maybe. Maybe not.

It seems to me there's also a sort of broader philosophical disagreement between the advocates of this policy who are insane and its opponents who are sane, which is if you go – the political philosopher John Rawls, who was very beloved by many on the liberal side of the political spectrum, said that we should assume – we should take – view all public policies from the point of view of someone without any consideration to the point of view of where we are in society, who we are connected to, our family and so forth. We should – it's something called the neutral proposition or something; I forget exactly the phrase he uses for it. But that's entirely a fiction.

None of us is unconnected when we come into this world, when we grow into adulthood. We have family. We have neighbors. We have fellow citizens. We have people that are connected to us in all kinds of voluntary associations and, as observers have noted since the time of Alexis de Tocqueville, this country is particularly rich in voluntary associations. The Harvard sociologist Robert Putnam has written a book, “Bowling Alone,” decrying the supposed decline in voluntary associations. Other scholars have challenged his data or his point of view.

Putnam has more recently published a book – the social science survey results which he suppressed for several years because he felt they weren't progressive leaning – which found that associational richness, societal connections, interconnectedness was least in areas that had greatest diversity as measured by, among other things, immigrant populations. He didn't really want to publicize this; he finally did. But that seems to be the case.

In any case, the followers of Rawls want us to see ourselves as in the words of a presidential candidate this year "citizens of the world," as unconnected, as not favoring one connection over the other. If we are citizens of the United States or citizens of Indonesia, it shouldn't make any difference. We should just imagine somehow that we are untethered in the world, above it. To me that's an entirely unrealistic point of view and I'm more inclined to the view of another presidential candidate, John McCain, who was questioned on this issue of American exceptionalism by a media interlocutor recently who was astonished that he could find America to be an exceptional country. And McCain kept saying over and over, well, I have a lot of respect for other countries, and so forth, but this country is exceptional. And of course the interlocutor, benefiting as she is from the fact that this is an exceptional country and she can make a lot more money here than anywhere else in the world doing what she does, expressed surprise and dismay at this point of view.

So this is – it seems to me the proposals for non-citizen voting are just one more cynical attempt to manipulate the process in favor of one side of the political argument. The fact that, as Stanley Renshon tells us, so few non-citizens of Takoma Park actually choose to participate suggests to me what's going on is that these little scurrying volunteers sign all these people up and they're too busy working at two jobs or something else they don't really care what the Takoma Park Recreation Commission does or whether or not the laws on preservation of 1920s housing fronts is enforced by the city or not, and they simply don't participate.

But underneath this cynical proposal I think are dangerous ideas that devalue our citizenship and attack the interconnectedness, the voluntary associations. For citizenship is indeed – although conferred on most of us by birth – is a voluntary association which we may refute – we can stop being citizens if we want to – and which others can choose. And so it's – you know, I hate to be with the citizens of San Francisco on an issue, but this one they got right. Or I should say the voters of San Francisco –

MR. KRIKORIAN: Thank you.

MR. BARONE: – citizens or no.

MR. KRIKORIAN: Thank you, Michael. Stanley had one or two thoughts, then we'll do Q&A.

MR. RENSHON: Okay. Well, I wanted to say a few things about the sort of – the idea that you would think would not get to first base and it seems so against the grain that it wouldn't. But I had an experience a couple years ago. I worked on this book, The 50 Percent American, which was about multiple loyalties and dual nationality and so I was invited to a debate by the League of Woman Voters in New York, which is a fairly sort of white-shoe, middle of the road, do-well, do-good kind of organization. And they were debating giving their affirmation to the idea of allowing non-citizens to vote and I was sort of added at the last minute and so I had to debate. And they came out not taking a position, but essentially saying that we should be very respectful of ways in which to improve the participation of new immigrants. And I thought to myself, well – I brought them to a draw but even then there was a great deal of sentiment for saying, well, gee, it's just so fair and it expands democracy and isn't more voting better?

So when I started out taking a close look at it I had two general ideas. First of all, the idea really upset me for all the reasons that you mentioned. It is a pernicious idea if you have an attachment to the country and a sense of the American political community and democracy. And frankly, I wanted to look at it very carefully so that I could lay out all the arguments, lay out all the evidence for people to see so that every time this thing comes up somebody will be able to take this paper and a book that's going to come out on it and look it up and say, well, gee, it sounds good but if you actually look at the evidence, we ought to start putting nails in the coffin. And so that's what I think we ought to do with that and that's exactly what I hope gets done by this paper and the book that follows it.

MR. KRIKORIAN: Thank you, Stanley. I'd just like to add the idea – I mean, this initially is sort of so outlandish, why even bother have a paper on it? Why have a panel on it? You know, it wasn't that long ago people would have thought it was absurd that the Constitution protected burning the flag or that men should marry each other. And so ideas that seem outlandish at one point may not be outlandish with the passage of not too much time and so that's what we were thinking in a sense almost; heading it off at the pass, if you will.

So if anybody has any questions, we'd like to take them. You, sir, and then you. Yeah. If you could identify yourself too, please.

Q: Yeah. Paul Krawzak, San Diego Union-Tribune. Two questions. Does the Constitution say anything about this? And secondly, Michael Barone mentioned that he had – this would devalue citizenship. It seems to me like it completely undermines the idea of citizenship, so I'm interested in reaction to that.

MR. RENSHON: Well, I'll take the second first. I think it's pretty clear that it does undermine the basis of citizenship because citizenship for many years has become embedded with the idea of voting. And there are court cases that make that very explicit and I go over some of those. I'm not a constitutional scholar, but the court cases it seems are pretty clear. And it also has become part of our political culture. It's a little bit like the Miranda warnings. They've become embedded in our culture and police now know about them and criminals now know about them and so everybody adjusts to them.

Well, there's a national survey done of knowledge about civics that's done every couple of years and the latest one has a question in there, which specifically ties voting to citizenship. And I use that as an example of how the idea of the relationship – the strong relationship – between voting and citizenship has become part of our common culture and accepted as part of our common culture. So it is deeply embedded in that. And so once you start tinkering with deeply embedded parts of your political and common culture, you run the risk of unraveling that common culture.

And my point about all of these things is – I could see an argument about fairness in democracy and so forth and so on, but what advocates never do is they never put things on a scale; well, here's more fairness, here's more democracy, but what do we give up on the other side if we're trying to do that? And so what this paper is in a sense an attempt to do is put things on the scale and allow people the opportunity to weigh them for themselves. In my view the scales pretty dramatically come out on the view that you shouldn't allow this to happen.

I don't know if Michael or –


MR. RENSHON: – John or –

MR. BARONE: (Inaudible) – go ahead.

MR. KRIKORIAN: I just had a quick point to make related to this is that over the past 30, 40 years the difference between being a citizen and not being a citizen has basically boiled down to simply the voting and serving on a jury; I think that's about it.

MR. RENSHON: That's it. Yeah.

MR. KRIKORIAN: Because the – you're no longer allowed, except with very, very strict criteria, to limit employment, for instance – even private employment – to citizens only.

MR. RENSHON: There's some places where you can –

MR. KRIKORIAN: Some places you can. But the point is –

MR. BARONE: Police officers and things have to be –

MR. RENSHON: Right. Police officers, state officials, some government agencies dealing with security.

MR. KRIKORIAN: Nonetheless, there's strict scrutiny as to even private rules on limiting employment to citizens. There's just not that much that non-citizens can't do and this is one of the only things.

MR. FUND: Well, actually, the rules are so lax that we have examples which I enumerated in my book where non-citizens in this country often have it both ways. In Orange County, California the local courts sent out an extensive mailing asking people to serve as jurors. They got several hundred responses back from people who said I don't have to serve; I'm a non-citizen. The only problem of course is they were also registered to vote and some of them had voted. So –

MR. BARONE: The assassin of –

MR. FUND: Colosio.

MR. BARONE: – Colosio's assassin –

MR. FUND: In Mexico.

MR. BARONE: – in 1994 in Tijuana was a registered Democrat in Orange County.

MR. FUND: Three times.


MR. FUND: He registered three times. So right now –

MR. BARONE: Take that, Bob Dornan.

MR. FUND: Our voting system is on the honor system. If you're a non-citizen of this country and you really, really want to vote, you can. The risk of detection is almost infinitesimal. The risk, even if you are detected, of being prosecuted is very low. The risk of actually having a punishment that is at all proportionate to the offence is almost nil. Effectively, this is an honor system. To institutionalize this beyond the lax system we have now would be unconscionable.

MR. KRIKORIAN: Thank you.

Q (Inaudible) – Hispanic Outlook magazine. I wanted to ask you about the – dual nationals and I think there is hidden difference between dual nationality and dual citizenship. It used to be that if you voted in someone – in another country's election you would lose American citizenship but I'm not sure if that still holds.

MR. RENSHON: It doesn't.

Q: I also wondered, of course, in a presidential election there's a lot of countries who are saying they should have the right to vote for the U.S. president – (inaudible) – impact on their lives. Any new movement on that?

MR. RENSHON: Well, I've seen lots of wishing. And I think in the last election, if I remember correctly – Michael probably knows this much better than I do – didn't some people overseas organize vote trades of some sort?


MR. RENSHON: But generally speaking foreigners would love to vote in American elections and they would love to tell Americans how they ought to have their social or political and national security policies, and very fortunately we still are able to decide our own fate.

Q: And what about the dual nationality?

MR. RENSHON: Well, the nationality is really a psychological identification and the citizenship is a legal category; and in the United States, very briefly, you can be a citizen of two countries. And that's another thing, by the way, about allowing legal residents but non-citizens to vote. Technically when a person comes over here and has a green card they are still a citizen of another country. That's a technical point. I'm not pushing that so much. But essentially you – it is about allegiance, attachment, and the idea of putting your attachment to the United States forward and allowing the other attachments – which as an analyst I know people have multiple attachments – allowing that to recede further in the distance.

And we hope – Americans have always done well in immigration by leveraging self-interest to real attachment. And what we hope is that over time the first generation, the 1.5 generation, the second generation, that people will become fully at home. They will be acculturated. They will know how to navigate the country; that is, they will be assimilated. But more than acculturation and more than assimilation, that the end result of the immigration process should be attachment. That's what I think and much assimilation theory goes wrong?

MR. KRIKORIAN: Anyone else? Yeah.

Q: I'm Caitlin Webber from Congressional Quarterly. I'm just wondering what your thoughts are about non-citizens participating in campaigns or the political process – (inaudible), volunteering for political parties or giving money to candidates. What are your thoughts about that?

MR. FUND: Well, federal law is pretty clear. You can only contribute to a federal campaign if you're a citizen. In fact, we even tightened up the regulations somewhat so that if you're an American citizen but under the age of 18 it's much more difficult – or at least the regulation to make it more difficult – for you to contribute because often that's used as a mask for adults to give rather large allowances to their five year olds and then have them contribute it to –

MR. BARONE: I know federal judges whose children maxed out.

MR. FUND: Exactly. So right now there is a barrier to that participation. I think that should continue. I do know that many people, for example, wanted to contribute to Barack Obama's campaign and there have been some examples of people slipping through; for example, the twin brothers in the Gaza Strip who contributed a total of $32,000 to the Obama campaign and it was missed because it was listed as GA in the Federal Election Commission records.

MR. BARONE: Georgia.

MR. FUND: Everyone thought it was Georgia. Actually, it was Gaza Authority.

MR. BARONE: But they thought it was Tbilisi, Georgia is not – well, actually it was near Atlanta.

MR. FUND: Exactly. So in this case they couldn't find a city called Gaza in Georgia, so that's how it was caught.

MR. RENSHON: Like most Americans.

MR. FUND: Exactly. So federal law is pretty clear on that and I don't think – but I do know there are proposals to weaken it and they're of a piece of these non-citizen voting proposals. And I think all of them have to be resisted.

MR. BARONE: But I think people can volunteer and go door-to-door for candidates and things like that.

MR. FUND: Of course.

MR. BARONE: We're not going to prohibit that sort of thing, although the state of Vermont might argue that it's an in-kind contribution because remember Vermont – I guess you've written on this, John – if you run for the legislature you have to take the cost of your gas if you're driving around to visit your constituents – you have to take the cost of your gas as an expenditure and it costs against your expenditure limit which is something like $300 or something. So if you've got four towns in Vermont you may have to walk.

MR. FUND: $5 gallon gas – (inaudible).

MR. BARONE: Well, then you've got to actually – you should impute the cost to the wear on your shoes which, after all, candidates have been known to wear out a pair of shoes campaigning for office. And if they're Gucci loafers or something you're up about $400 and that's pretty much your whole campaign; you'll have to campaign barefoot.

MR. RENSHON: I don't have any problem with people taking part in electoral politics, outside of contributing money where they aren't allowed to do that. I think that's a way that you learn about American politics and I think it's a good socialization experience and it's one of those in-lieu-of kinds of things that advocates for non-citizen voting never take seriously. So I'm – I don't have any issue with that.

Q: Yeah. My name is Jonathan Clark. I'm – although I'm a resident of Maryland I actually was not aware that non-citizens are voting in Takoma Park I guess in local elections. It seems to me like there'd be an obvious legal challenge to that if any resident in Takoma Park was – (inaudible). I mean, is it just that there's no – in Takoma Park that would be really no – (inaudible) – legal challenge for that?

MR. RENSHON: Well, it turned out that the guy – who's last name is now escaping me – who spearheaded this actually is a law professor at American University. And I have the memo that he wrote for the town –

MR. KRIKORIAN: Jamin Raskin?

MR. RENSHON: Jamin Raskin, thank you very much – in which he laid out his defense in such a case. But he says in there it's never been challenged and so I say in the paper that it's never been legally tested and it would be very interesting to see what would happen if it was.

MR. FUND: Well, a legal challenge is more likely to apply if, A, the participation of non-citizens went above the 10 percent that we're seeing, which is almost a trace turnout; and secondly, if any election were actually decided by the votes of non-citizens.

MR. BARONE: Or people believed it was.

MR. FUND: Or people believed that it was decided by non-citizens. At that point you might have someone with an interest. Otherwise, right now it's interesting curiosity. But to make the point that this is a live decision, San Francisco Board of Supervisors supported this measure, put it on the ballot. Other cities have come close to putting this on the ballot and supporting it. This will become a live issue when some large city other than San Francisco puts it on the ballot. And it's inevitable because just as Mr. Gonzalez has said that given the changing composition of the city of San Francisco and more and more legal immigrants entering the city, he believes it would pass today because the rejection of it was not overwhelming.

MR. BARONE: I think that to explain why no citizen residing in Takoma Park has challenged this may involve less of Stanley Renshon's expertise as a political scientist and more of his expertise as a psychiatrist.

MR. KRIKORIAN: One point I'd just like to – actually, sort of a question in regard to this – since the city is an extrusion of the state, could the state legislature –

MR. BARONE: Creature – it's a creature of the state.

MR. KRIKORIAN: But the state legislature could ban it.

MR. BARONE: The state legislature could ban it, yeah. But the Maryland legislation is not going to do that because it's a bunch of Democrats and they figure it's more Democratic votes, so what the hell.

MR. KRIKORIAN: Any other questions? Yes, ma'am.

Q: My first question, Mr. Fund, when is your book going to be in the stores?

MR. FUND: Starting today.

MR. BARONE: It should be today. Oh, sure.

MR. FUND: “Stealing Elections.”

Q: Okay.

MR. BARONE: (Inaudible) – oui, as John Kerry would say.

Q: The second question, am I to understand from you that – you said voting is a matter of the honor system, that with the upcoming election we could have illegal immigrants and legal immigrants voting and we would not be able to do anything about it?

MR. FUND: Well, Hans von Spakovsky in the audience might have something to add to this, but we have examples – most especially a congressional race in California in which investigators found about 4,000 people had registered to vote who were illegal aliens. A significant percentage of those did turn out to vote. However, the margin of that district race was about 990 votes; the number of proven – proven, although there were more suspect votes – proven illegal votes was about 780, so it didn't reach that threshold level.

Q: Sanchez, is that the one you're talking about?

MR. FUND: Loretta Sanchez, '96. Now, there may be other examples, but there's a barrier towards finding out whether this has happened in other races because the ICE – the immigration authority – has often refused to cooperate with local election officials by providing them with immigration information which could lead them to do a match up of voter registration roles because of the Privacy Act. Now, I support the Privacy Act. I very much believe in civil liberties. But I do believe there is some difference in applying the Privacy Act to citizens and non-citizens.

If you're here illegally or you've overstayed your visa and ICE has records on that, I think those records should be of relevance to the local authorities and I think they should be able to do a match up, which would prove the extent to which we have illegal aliens voting in some races. Right now that's very difficult to prove so we only have circumstantial, anecdotal evidence.

Q: So then the likelihood of a challenge –

MR. FUND: Well if ICE won't give up the records it's very difficult to prove that someone was an illegal alien when they voted.

Q: Okay. What – (inaudible) – voting rolls and they call people for jury duty and the person says I can't participate –

MR. FUND: Well, it means they're lying in one aspect or another. They're either lying when they say they're a non-citizen or they're lying when they say they're –

MR. BARONE: I've got jury duty in December. This is very – (laughter).

MR. FUND: In other words, it could be that some people are simply lying, that they actually are citizens and they're simply saying I'm a non-citizen in order to get out of jury duty. But I suspect more likely is the case that people have both registered to vote and have decided that they don't want to bother with jury duty.

Q: And then – so they vote – well, they register to vote but it depends if they vote or not.

MR. FUND: Well, there is a box on registration forms that says you have to check and state that you're a citizen.

Q: Okay.

MR. FUND: But – and technically it's an element of perjury if you check that box untruthfully. However, no one checks the record. Almost no one is prosecuted for that. I can't even – I mean, I did some legal research; I couldn't come up with more than the fingers of one hand the number of cases that were involved in the last two decades on that. So effectively, if you want to vote you fill out the postcard registration form, you check the box saying you're a citizen, and there's almost nothing preventing you from voting other than your honesty.

MR. KRIKORIAN: Let's not advertise that too wide, but –

MR. FUND: That's right.

MR. KRIKORIAN: Any other questions?

MR. BARONE: Make – (inaudible).

MR. KRIKORIAN: Yes, sir?

Q: Yes. I'm Robert – (inaudible) – of Maryland. Can a dual citizen hold a political office in America?


MR. FUND: Sure.

MR. RENSHON: Can a dual citizen hold a political office in America? The answer is yes.

MR. KRIKORIAN: Could hold office in the United States and in his home country at the same time?

MR. FUND: Some Mexicans do.

MR. KRIKORIAN: That's right.

Q: Then if the country –

MR. BARONE: Other countries may not allow that.

Q: So, I mean –

MR. BARONE: But some encourage it. I mean, Mexico is encouraging dual citizenship under its public policies now.

Q: – Germany –

MR. RENSHON: Germany is one of the few that doesn't, but the last time I looked at it – which was a couple of years ago – I think 130 countries now allow some form of dual citizenship. I have the list in the back of my book. Of course, most countries that are sending people here to the United States have realized that it's a very nice thing for them to have a very large group of people from country X who still maintain their ties emotionally and otherwise with their country of origin.

And send money home.

MR. RENSHON: And send money home. And so they do everything they can to cement this tie and build on it. And so that's a fact of our lives.

MR. BARONE: Yeah. Mexico has encouraged this. I mean, interesting – up through and including the election of 2000, Mexico effectively had no absentee voting, unlike many other countries in Latin America. Well, the PRI – the ruling party basically figured that they hand out tortillas and stuff before the election to these people in a little village – (inaudible) – and they didn't want – they couldn't do that in the United States very effectively so they didn't like absentee voting. There is now absentee voting in Mexico, though it's difficult as I understand.

MR. RENSHON: It'll become easier.

MR. BARONE: And Mexico also has a better, more tamper-proof voter identification card than we have in the United States and which – you know, you've got the Democratic Party basically saying that to require voters to show identification at the polls is a civil rights violation akin to murdering people in Mississippi in 1964. I think that's a bizarre claim but –

MR. KRIKORIAN: Actually –

MR. BARONE: – I would just like – I'd like to see Mark Krikorian advocating the Mexican voter ID.

MR. KRIKORIAN: Oh, I've been a – I've actually been an election observer in Mexico. They have very good IDs.

MR. FUND: Well, actually, just to give you the – just to give you the specifics, to obtain voter credentials in Mexico the citizen must present a photo, write a signature, and give a thumbprint. The voter card includes a picture with a hologram covering it, a magnetic strip, and a serial number to guard against tampering. To cast a ballot, voters must present the card and be certified by a thumbprint scanner. This system, which was implemented for the first time in 2000, led to the first defeat of the PRI in its history and the election of the first opposition party candidate to be elected president of Mexico in 70 years.

MR. BARONE: No. There's no question that Mexican elections now have less voter fraud –

MR. FUND: Absolutely.

MR. BARONE: – than American elections.

MR. RENSHON: That's really – that's really –

MR. KRIKORIAN: Actually, I'd embrace the Mexican –

MR. RENSHON: That's a comment if I ever heard one.

MR. KRIKORIAN: I'd embrace the Mexican immigration system as well overall but that's a separate issue.

MR. BARONE: Well, that involves – that involves beating the crap out of people that come in the country illegally.

MR. KRIKORIAN: One – we're getting out of time and I just had one question that probably the answer is we don't know, but – this is for Stanley or anyone else. Have any foreign governments made any sounds about their non-citizens want to vote here? In other words, not the dual citizenship issue, but saying you should let our Sri Lankan non-citizens vote? What I mean – I have no idea.

MR. RENSHON: Not that I've come across at all. That hasn't been done. But there's a very large movement in Europe because of the EU and the problems they have with having people now circulating through the EU about what will happen to people who have come into a state to work and what their voting rights will be and so forth and so on.

MR. BARONE: Well, there's also – the EU is – EU countries, many of them, are encouraging people of Spanish or Portuguese descent, for example, to become Spanish and Portuguese citizens, which entitles them to work anywhere in the EU. So there are people – there's now a movement of people from Argentina to Spain and Italy on the basis of ancestry and claiming citizenship in those EU countries.

MR. RENSHON: But Michael, they've had for now a couple of years on the books the allowance of allowing those people to vote in local elections, and in my paper I have some data on that. The data is pretty much the same as it is in the United States I think for the reasons that you point out, that those people are busy making a life for themselves and really not interested in running for city council or –

MR. BARONE: No. When you're staying in a hotel in some foreign country for a week, the desire to vote in their local elections is pretty limitado, I think.


MR. KRIKORIAN: Let's – I want to respect people's time. Stanley is going to be here but let's wrap it up now. I want to thank Stanley and John and Michael and all of you. And Stanley is going to be here; I don't know about the other guests. You can accost them afterwards. Thanks for coming and the paper is online at Thanks.