The Right to Vote, or What does it mean to be a Citizen?

A friend of mine sent me this link to an interesting article, Cities Weigh Letting Noncitizens Vote.  This is an interesting subject.  Some states are considering allowing noncitizens to vote in local elections.  My first reaction to this is Why?  If these people want the right to vote, then there is a perfectly good process in place – Becoming a citizen.  Yeah, it’s a long process and can be difficult, but the answer isn’t giving anybody who happens to live here the right to vote.  If we believe that these people should be able to vote, and the citizenship process is too long or difficult, then we should be working to fix the citizenship process.
If we give noncitizens the right to vote, then what does it mean to be a citizen?  Does that idea lose it’s meaning, its purpose, if we give the right to vote to everybody who lives here?  The counterargument is brought up that these people who have lived here for years (one man in the article says he has lived in Portland,ME for 13 years) and have paid their taxes regulary – should they not have the right to vote if they are being taxed? Wasn’t this country founded on the idea of “No taxation without representation”?   It was, but there is a process in place to get representation. I paid sales tax for years before I was given the right to vote.
The right to vote is very closely tied to other civic duties.  The voting age was lowered to 18 in 1971.  One of the biggest reasons for this was the Vietnam war and the draft that was instituted.  It was argued that our young men could be drafted and sent to war, but they could not vote for those leaders who were sending them to war.  There is this connection between voting and other duties of the citizen.  If we allow noncitizens to vote, shouldn’t they also be eligible for the draft?  But they aren’t, because they aren’t citizens.
But, then I do understand, at least in part, their desire to vote in local elections.  As the article states, these people have lived in certain cities for years, their children have gone to public schools, and yet they cannot vote for the school boards that determine how their children’s education will be carried out.  Is there a difference between such a ‘small’ local election like a School Board race, or City Council, and a national Presidential election?  Should these noncitizens be allowed to vote in ALL elections?  And if they can vote in elections, can they run for office?  Where do we draw the line?  Do we allow them to vote in city-wide elections? State-wide?  National?  All or some of those?
My feeling is that if they want to vote so badly they should use the political process that is in place.  (Find some dead guy and use his name to vote!) They should become citizens.  And if the citizenship process takes too long, we should fix it.  Or maybe we can make a concession there – allow them to vote if they are in the process of becoming a citizen.  But that raises its own issues – what if, for whatever reason, their citizenship is denied?  At which part of the citizenship process do we allow them to vote?
I guess the real bottom line is wrapped up in these questions – What does being a citizen of the United States mean?  What does voting mean?  Is voting a right or a privilege? Is it a right granted by birth, by citizenship, by residency?  And if it’s a privilege can people lose that privilege, criminals for example?
It is an interesting subject, but I think if people want certain rights, they need to do something first.  You can’t both be and not be a citizen.  You can’t have some of the benefits and only some of the responsibilities.  It doesn’t work that way.

2 thoughts on “The Right to Vote, or What does it mean to be a Citizen?

  1. I think it’s a somewhat sticky issue because the article specifically says they pay taxes. Since our warcry during the American Revolution was apparently “No taxation without representation,” I would feel bad to turn around and say, “Hey, you work here and give us a portion of your money, but uh, no representation for you.”

    There’s more than just non-citizen and citizen status. You have school visas and work visas too, as well as green card status. Perhaps we could work out some kind of compromise where people with certain types of visas (like work visas) can also vote, since they do (theoretically) pay taxes into the American political system? They should have the ability to hold local politicians accountable for how they spend their money.

    1. Okay, that’s exactly the type of compromise I was looking for but couldn’t find. Why couldn’t we allow people with certain types of visas to vote in certain local elections? They live here, work here, pay taxes here, and should have some sort of say as to what goes on here.

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