The Republican-dominated House of Representatives passed a symbolic resolution against granting undocumented immigrants the right to vote.
The unusual measure was, according to POLITICO.com, ‘essentially a protest’ against a small handful of cities which allow illegal immigrants to vote in certain local elections. The move, supported by House Majority Leader Kevin McCarthy (R-CA), might be intended to keep conservative leadership in the good graces of House hardliners.
McCarthy, who’s hoping to succeed retiring House Speaker Paul Ryan (R-WI), says it’s critical to protect the ‘legitimacy’ of American elections, whether from foreign influence or domestic fraud. The Hill recounts how McCarthy had purportedly been warned about noncitizen voting from city officials.
“They feel that they’re disenfranchised—that this is a movement that’s going around with Democrat-controlled cities,” McCarthy said on Wednesday. “That it dilutes why people work so hard to become citizens, it dilutes elections as well, too.”
“People want to make sure the elections are honest and fair and upheld,” he said.
Democratic leaders didn’t take kindly to McCarthy’s resolution, suggesting that its passage was waste of time.
“I would point out this is not a law, it’s a non-binding resolution. So there’s a clear attempt to try to play gotcha with folks,” said Rep. Linda Sanchez (D-CA), vice chair of the House Democratic Caucus. “And instead of wasting time on a non-binding resolution, I would like to see the Republicans focused on getting the seven unfinished spending bills done, so we can keep the lights on in the government.”
Other Democrats have allegedly called the GOP measure ‘ridiculous,’ ‘stupid’ and largely ‘meaningless.’
Republicans, said Illinois Rep. Luis Gutierrez, “have done absolutely nothing to protect us against the Russia investigation […] but somebody’s voting in their local school council election, that’s worth denouncing?”
NBC News says the Republican resolution follows news of the City of San Francisco’s decision to allow those lacking legal status to vote in school board elections.
Several conservatives questioned the measure’s sensibility, pointing out that voting rights are clearly spelled out by the Constitution.
“This just shows how radicalized our politics have become on both sides, where you have to spend floor time highlighting a part of the Constitution,” said Rep. Carlos Curbelo (R-FL). “I think in the context I can see why they would want to do it. Now, is it an absolute necessity? I don’t think so.”
While the Constitution bars non-citizens from participating in federal and state elections, it allows states to determine whether non-citizens can cast their ballot in local events.
Some eleven states, including California, permit or don’t forbid non-citizens from participating in local elections. NBC notes that there’s no ‘record of an undocumented immigrant who has recently crossed the border’ voting or attempting to vote in such small-scale events—San Francisco itself warned aliens that their information could be accessed by the U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement agency if they did choose to vote.
Judiciary Chairman and Virginia Rep. Bob Goodlatte (R) suggested that being able to vote in school board elections could lure more illegal immigrants into the United States.
“Extending voting rights to those who are not lawfully present in the United States acts like another incentive for foreign nationals to come to the United States illegally and stay,” he said.
Rep. Gutierrez supposes the reality may be a different—that Republicans are simply trying to cast their political opponents as bad for democracy.
“They want to be able to say, ‘Look at these Democrats, they’re destroying our democracy, they’re letting foreigners come and determine who gets elected,’” he said. “It’s always been about fear.”