Last fall, the D.C. City Council passed a bill that will allow noncitizens, including illegal immigrants, to vote in local elections. If it survives review by Congress, the new law’s impact on elections will not be negligible. According to the 2021 American Community Survey, a little over 42,000 voting-age noncitizens live in the district, and roughly half of those noncitizens are likely to be illegal.1 For context, D.C. Mayor Muriel Bowser won her party’s nomination last year by fewer than 11,000 votes.
Even if noncitizen voting does not swing any elections in D.C., the symbolism will be significant, as the nation’s capital embraces a mindset that residents need not be fully committed to the country before they begin casting votes that affect its future. While it is objectionable enough that legal noncitizens can vote before they become naturalized Americans, the D.C. law goes further to grant voting rights to people whose very presence in the U.S. is illegal. That is an even more significant debasement of citizenship and the rule of law.
Because the Constitution grants Congress “exclusive” control over D.C., laws passed by the district’s city council are valid only to the extent that members of Congress tolerate them. Next week the House Rules Committee will consider a bill sponsored by Rep. James Comer that repeals D.C.’s election law. A companion resolution has been sponsored by Sen. Tom Cotton.
The DCist quotes Councilmember Brianne Nadeau’s opposition to repeal:
I’m sure that Sen. Cotton and Rep. Comer do not think that Congress should be able to make and override the laws of Arkansas and Kentucky. And yet they think they should be able to dictate the laws for 700,000 law-abiding residents of the District of Columbia and deny us the right to govern ourselves. This is exactly why Congress must finally make the District of Columbia the 51st state.
But the founders made Congress sovereign over D.C. to avoid giving any one state control over the seat of the federal government. It is therefore no inconsistency to respect local control in actual states but to insist on congressional oversight of the federal district. Furthermore, the reference to “law-abiding residents” governing themselves is inaccurate, since D.C. would authorize illegal immigrants to vote. In fact, diluting citizens’ votes with the votes of illegal immigrants is a rather strange conception of self-government.
1 Estimates of the legal/illegal split are varied due to the Census Bureau’s small samples of the district’s population. Pew estimated in 2016 in that 25,000 D.C. residents were illegal. The Migration Policy Institute found 21,000 in 2019, and estimates from the Center for Migration Studies range from 24,500 in 2017 to 12,200 in 2019. Both legal and illegal noncitizens in D.C. are now likely to be greater in number: The Center for Immigration Studies recently found a 3.4 million net increase in the foreign-born population in the U.S. since President Biden took office, with approximately 60 percent of the increase due to illegal immigration.