COLUMBUS, Ohio (AP) — Republican state lawmakers in Ohio have fast-tracked a fall ballot measure that would expressly prohibit noncitizens from voting in local elections.
The proposed noncitizen voting ban — which emerged just last week and cleared the Ohio House 68-28 on Wednesday — stands to ignite GOP voters ahead of this year’s high-stakes midterm elections, when Republicans hope dissatisfaction with Democrats in Washington will help them regain control of Congress and win overwhelming Statehouse majorities.
The push comes as some places in the country have begun to allow legally documented, voting-age noncitizens to cast ballots. It’s legal in New York City in races for mayor, City Council and other municipal offices; and in San Francisco for school board races — but not for things like president, governor or U.S. House members.
The Ohio constitutional amendment moves next to the state Senate, where it needs a similar three-fifths majority to advance to the November statewide ballot.
Its backers say the prohibition on noncitizen voting is meant to be preventive.
“Most people would be surprised to learn that this situation (noncitizen voting) even exists,” GOP state Rep. Jay Edwards said in announcing it last week.
Democrats criticized the effort as taxation without representation and an infringement on the home rule rights of Ohio’s cities, towns and villages.
“Immigrants serve as firefighters, they serve as police officers in our communities, they are homeowners, they contribute to our societies, they serve as schoolteachers, their kids go to schools in our community,” said state Rep. Mike Skindell, a Lakewood Democrat. “And they have a right to have a voice, and we should allow that.”
The effort follows approval in 2020 by Yellow Springs, a progressive village near Dayton, of a charter amendment allowing legal immigrants to vote on certain local candidate races and tax issues.
Republican Secretary of State Frank LaRose ordered the county elections board to discount any noncitizen votes that were subsequently cast. He argued that the charter amendment violated both the U.S. and Ohio constitutions, which prohibit noncitizen voting in federal and state races.
The Yellow Springs council insisted it was within its home rule rights to extend the local right to vote to legal immigrants. However, the village chose not to challenge LaRose’s directive in court.
That left a legal loophole unaddressed: Ohio’s constitution guarantees “every citizen” of the U.S. meeting certain criteria the right to vote. The new proposal would amend that to say “only” U.S. citizens can vote.