Ohio Ballot Includes Amendment to Ban Alien Voting
FAIR Take | June 2022
The Ohio legislature recently voted to put a constitutional amendment on the November ballot to limit voting to American citizens and to ensure local governments cannot grant voting privileges to anyone who is not a U.S. citizen.
New York City’s action to enact voting rights for foreign nationals in January set off alarm bells all over the country. While that decision is tied up in the courts, it has caused states to consider their own voting laws.
Tennessee, like Ohio, took affirmative action to ensure only US citizens are allowed to vote which includes banning local governments from allowing aliens to vote in local elections.
Other jurisdictions are following New York City and are taking steps towards allowing aliens to vote in their local elections, including Chicago, San Jose, Boston and Portland, Maine. Before New York City, only a handful of localities in Maryland and Vermont authorized voting by foreign nationals. In addition, San Francisco allowed foreign nationals to vote in school board elections.
The Village of Yellow Springs, Ohio, changed its charter in 2020 to allow foreign nationals to vote in local races. However, Ohio Secretary of State Frank LaRose (R) directed Yellow Springs not to implement the move and the village backed down rather than face a possible lawsuit. It is not clear though, whether the village would have lost the case since the Ohio Supreme Court in 1917 determined that the Ohio constitution’s guarantee of local home rule meant local governments could expand local voting rights beyond those authorized by the state for state elections.
The Ohio Constitution states that “[e]very citizen of the United States, of the age of eighteen years … is entitled to vote at all elections.” (Article V, Section 1) House Joint Resolution (HJR) 4 would place an amendment on the November ballot that if approved by a majority of the voters would change the constitution to allow “only a citizen” to vote. This language mirrors the state constitutions in Alabama, Arizona, Colorado, Florida and North Dakota. However, HJR 4 goes beyond those state constitutions that only allow citizens to vote since it also prohibits local governments from creating voting rights for anyone else, regardless of any other constitutional provisions for home rule.
HJR 4 was introduced on May 17 and moved rapidly through the legislative process. At a May 24 hearing before the House Committee on State and Local Government, Secretary LaRose testified in its favor, stating that “a vote is a sacred right that many have fought and bled to protect – but only a right that is earned by birth or the oath of citizenship. American elections are only for American citizens — and that should never change.”
The resolution passed the committee the next day by a vote of 8-3. It passed the House by a vote of 68-28 with four Democrats joining all the Republicans in support. The voting margin was more than the three-fifths supermajority required to place a constitutional amendment on the ballot. When it passed the House, the sponsor Rep. Seitz noted, “[w]ith our vote today, we are giving Ohio’s voters a very clear choice … They can either decide that Ohio should imitate New York and San Francisco by allowing non-citizens to vote, or that Ohio reserves its voting rights only to qualified citizens. I am confident in their judgement.”
The Senate Local Government and Elections Committee held a hearing on HJR 4 on May 31 and the next day passed the resolution unanimously. When the full Senate considered the resolution, it was also passed unanimously.
Resolutions to put state constitutional amendments on the ballot are not subject to a gubernatorial veto in Ohio.
If other states are any indication, HJR 4 will likely be approved by a majority of Ohio voters in November. Voters in Alabama passed a similar amendment 77 percent to 23 percent. Likewise in Colorado the margins were 63 percent to 37 percent and in Florida it passed 79 percent to 21 percent.