Republicans push for ‘citizens-only’ voting in North Carolina

House Republicans are seeking to reword the North Carolina Constitution to specify that only citizens of the United States are allowed to cast votes in the state, through a proposed referendum opponents say is unnecessary political theater. 

House Bill 1074 would ask voters to reword the state constitution to say that “only a citizen of the United States is eligible to vote provided that the person meets all other qualifications for voting.”

As currently written, the state constitution allows “every person born in the United States and every person who has been naturalized, 18 years of age, and possessing the qualifications set … shall be entitled to vote at any election by the people of the State.”

Voters must have lived in their voting precinct for at least 30 days before an election and present a valid photo ID when voting in person. Convicted felons are barred from voting.

“If you read the language that’s in the Constitution right now, it says that every person born in the United States and every person who’s been naturalized essentially can vote in our elections,” Rep. Destin Hall, chairman of the House rules committee, said Wednesday afternoon while introducing the bill to the chamber’s elections law panel. “Some commentators have said that may be a floor, rather than the ceiling of who can vote. And so the fear is that some future court could decide that that’s not a limitation on everybody who can vote. That’s just saying that those are among the group of folks who can’t vote in elections.”

If the bill passes and is signed by the Governor, the proposed constitutional amendment will appear on the ballot during the General Election on November 5. Should it then reach a 50% threshold, the act would direct the State Board of Elections to certify the amendment and the Secretary of State to enroll it in the constitution. 

Only the federal Constitution grants citizenship, which spells out two paths: by birth within the territorial limits of the United States, or through citizenship of a parent, and naturalization.

Rep. Pricey Harrison, representing Guilford County, pointed out that voting by non-U.S. citizens is a crime under federal law. She and other opponents of the proposed amendment said it could instill fear and doubt in marginalized populations, especially newly naturalized citizens who want to cast a ballot in North Carolina. 

“I just feel like we’re chasing a problem that doesn’t exist,” Harrison said. “The penalties that come with voting as a non-citizen are scary to the non-citizen, and it just seems like we are creating a situation that might be chilling new citizens’ desire to vote. I don’t like the signal this is sending. I know this is part of an effort that seems to be going on nationally. I think it’s pretty clear in our constitution, that non-citizens can’t vote. I don’t know why we need to be going through this.”

Republican House Speaker Rep. Tim Moore is leading the citizens-only referendum push.

“In North Carolina, we value the integrity of our elections and have put safeguards in place to ensure our elections are secure,” Moore said in May when the legislation was announced. “Recent efforts to allow non-citizens to vote would undermine the public’s confidence in our electoral system and leave the door open for chaos and election fraud to take hold. Preventing non-citizens from voting in our elections also helps maintain national sovereignty, as it prevents foreign influence from affecting the outcomes of American elections, and this amendment to our constitution would further strengthen election integrity in North Carolina.”

Moore was not present while the elections committee considered the bill on Wednesday and passed the measure by voice vote.

Anne Webb, policy director at the pro-democracy lobby Common Cause North Carolina, said the measure is “an unnecessary waste of taxpayer funds.” 

“It is truly designed to divide voters with anti-immigrant conspiracy theories and create distrust in our democratic process,” Webb told the House elections committee on Wednesday. “The law is already clear, there is no reasonable doubt that only U.S. citizens are eligible to vote in North Carolina. The language in our state constitution originates from the 14th amendment and its meaning has already been interpreted by the courts. It is already a federal and state felony to vote as a non-citizen or even to register. And there have been no efforts in our state to allow non-citizens to vote in local elections.”

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