Immigrant Voting Rights


Mar 10, 2018

The first major piece of U.S. legislation dealing with immigrant voting rights was the Naturalization Act of 1790, which allowed people born outside the United States to become citizens with voting rights — provided they were white men.

The passage of the Fourteenth Amendment extended voting rights to all naturalized male U.S. citizens regardless of race. That right extended to naturalized female U.S. citizens with the passage of the 19th Amendment in 1920.

The 1943 Magnuson Act gave Chinese immigrants a path to citizenship and voting rights for the first time. The act allowed Chinese immigration for the first time since 1882 and allowed some Chinese immigrants to become naturalized citizens, although it allowed bans on Chinese ownership of property or businesses to continue.

The Voting Rights Act of 1965 protected voter registration for racial minorities. Beginning in 1975, its terms were later expanded to offer protections to language minorities as well, allowing naturalized U.S. citizens to cast ballots in a language they could understand.

At various times in many U.S. states, some non-citizens were allowed to vote. A 1875 U.S. Supreme Court decision even affirmed that “citizenship has not in all cases been made a condition precedent to the enjoyment of the right of suffrage.”

In 1926 Arkansas became the last state to ban non-citizen voting in state elections. Since 1996 a federal law has banned non-citizens from voting in federal elections and established harsh punishments for violations. Today, some non-citizens are still allowed to vote in local elections.