December 16, 2013

The Dec. 7 editorial “Voting is for citizens,” about a D.C. Council bill that would allow green-card holders to vote in local elections, stated that voting is the “essence of citizenship.” But citizenship has not always guaranteed voting rights. The important question for a democracy is: Who is included in “we the people” and who is not?

Sadly, we know all too well that discrimination and exploitation result when members of communities are excluded from political participation. It was wrong to exclude African Americans and women from voting in the past, and it’s wrong to exclude immigrants today. Inclusion is the essence of democracy.

But the editorial made a more egregious claim: Allowing immigrants to vote would act as a “disincentive” to applying or becoming U.S. citizens. Nothing could be further from the truth. Historically, allowing newcomers to vote before becoming citizens was not a substitute for citizenship but rather a pathway to it, one that facilitated civic education and participation. That was the intent of Congressand 40 states when they passed laws allowing immigrants to vote. Immigrants learned civics by practice and became stakeholders in their communities and, eventually, citizens.

D.C. residents know the problem of “taxation without representation.” The council’s sensible bill would move the District toward realizing the promise of a true democracy. Far from “diluting” citizenship, this “tinkering” of D.C. voting practices would invigorate political participation and update our democracy for these global times.

Ron Hayduk, New York

The writer is a member of the leadership circle of FairVote’s Promote Our Vote project, which provides advice and assistance to voting rights initiatives.