Last Wednesday in Colorado, a committee of the State Senate voted to kill a bill to require proof of citizenship to register to vote. The vote was along party lines: All three Democrat legislators voted against the bill, and the committee’s two Republicans voted for it.
Why has the integrity of our voter rolls become a partisan issue?
The main argument heard against the proposal was that it would impose significant burdens on some individuals with unconventional “lifestyles.” A utility bill ought to be enough, apparently.
Another bogus argument is that somehow the requirement to show a birth certificate or naturalization papers violates a person’s civil rights. But federal courts have ruled many times that the requirement for basic documentary evidence of citizenship is not an onerous burden intended to obstruct voting by any minority of citizens. This argument, in fact, turns logic on its head, but that does not deter the opponents of ballot integrity.
We are not talking here about producing birth certificates to vote on Election Day, only for registering to vote, which people do only when they register the first time or move across state lines. Very little identification is required to vote on Election Day, but that is a different topic.
Shouldn’t there be some reasonable safeguards to guarantee that the votes of qualified electors are not canceled out by the votes of persons who are not citizens? Evidently, that idea is now controversial among Colorado Democrat leaders.
Admittedly, given the current technology available for counterfeit documents, the requirement of a birth certificate is not a foolproof method of establishing citizenship. But it should be an acceptable minimum standard.
The concept of ballot integrity is so fundamental that it is hard for ordinary citizens to comprehend opposition to such basic safeguards as proof of citizenship. Does the Democratic Party have a vested interest in lax standards for voter registration?
Such questions raise the possibility that there is something else going on besides a liberal deference to “unorthodox lifestyles” and a concern for the very modest cost of locating and producing necessary documents once every 10 or 20 years.
That there is a serious debate over this proposal may be another indicator of cultural balkanization. Maybe we as a society are losing sight of the special quality and unique privileges of citizenship. It is possible that what is under attack in this instance is not the burden of producing birth certificates or naturalization papers – which we must do on numerous other occasions in our lives – but an attack on the concept of citizenship itself.
What’s the big deal, some will ask. Aren’t we all members of “the American family”? Aren’t we “all God’s children”? And, of course, we all know that “No person is illegal.” Is it “old thinking” to believe that only citizens should be entitled to vote? Is this perhaps just another form of discrimination against the less fortunate amongst us?
In the past two or three years, communities from Oregon to Maine, Berkeley to Austin, have debated the idea of allowing noncitizens to vote in school-board elections. After all, the argument runs, the noncitizen parents of children in the school system have a stake in how the schools operate. But it does not take a rocket scientist to see that the same argument could apply to participation at any level of government.
A fundamental tenet of American law has always been that noncitizens are welcomed as guests in our house. We welcome tens of millions of tourists, exchange students, business travelers and temporary workers here on what are labeled in federal law as non-immigrant visas, visas with expiration dates. They have no permanent and lasting stake in the American community, as they do in their homeland.
The only visa without an expiration date is the one given to legal immigrants, who are called in federal law, legal permanent residents. After five years of legal residence, they can apply for citizenship, and then, as naturalized citizens, they are given the right to vote as full and equal partners with native-born citizens – a full equality not granted to naturalized citizens in many other countries, including our southern neighbor, Mexico.
About one million foreign-born persons become naturalized citizens annually, and the percentage of legal immigrants seeking citizenship has been rising. Ironically, according to polls, it is these new citizens who are the most fervent in the belief that voting is a privilege reserved for citizens, and they are eager to produce their naturalization papers when registering to vote for the first time.
If the Democratic Party wishes to grant illegal aliens the right to vote, it should be honest and propose a law to that effect instead of insulting our intelligence with talk of “lifestyle issues.” That proposal might win support in some quarters, and might even be enacted into law some day if a majority of Americans come to think in terms now popular in the Colorado Democrat Caucus.