Ohio voters are heading to the polls to decide if non-U.S. citizens can vote in state or local elections.
If passed, Issue 2 would change the Ohio Constitution. It proposes that only adult U.S. citizens who legally reside and are registered to vote in Ohio for at least 30 days can cast a ballot in future state and local elections.
The current Ohio Constitution states that “every citizen of the United States, of the age of eighteen years and has been registered to vote for thirty days is entitled to vote at all elections.”
The state constitution does not say that noncitizens cannot vote.
Federal law prohibits noncitizens from casting ballots in federal elections.
A 1917 ruling by the Ohio Supreme Court determined that the state constitution’s home rule, which gives cities control over their local issues, provided municipalities permission to expand voting rights in city elections.
Issue 2 would ensure that a city’s home rule does not circumvent the law that only adult U.S. citizens can cast ballots.
Supporters of Issue 2 believe the amendment will uphold the integrity of citizenship if it becomes law, while opponents claim it is an effort to “restrict voting access.”
At the forefront of Issue 2 is the village of Yellow Springs, which is located east of Dayton in southwest Ohio.
In 2019, village officials passed a referendum allowing residents who were not U.S. citizens to vote in local elections. Ohio Secretary of State Frank LaRose ordered the Greene County Board of Elections not to accept voter registration forms from noncitizens.
The referendum violated the U.S. and Ohio Constitutions, LaRose said. In a press release, he added, “Just when you thought 2020 couldn’t get any weirder, the village of Yellow Springs forces me, as Ohio’s chief elections officer, to restate the obvious – only U.S. citizens may vote.”
With a Norman Rockwell-esque historic district teeming with eclectic shops and a paved bicycle trail that stretches through the village, Yellow Springs is a thriving day trip and weekend getaway destination.
This village of 3,697 residents is also home to the unapologetically liberal Antioch College. Many houses on its tree-lined streets have yards dotted with signs that promote Black Lives Matter and LGBTQ causes.
During the COVID-19 pandemic, a banner placed across Main Street encouraged drivers to be kind and wear a mask.
Located in Greene County, where Republicans routinely win elections and Donald Trump defeated Joe Biden by 20 percentage points in the 2020 presidential election, Yellow Springs favored Biden, 92 percent to 7 percent.
“Ohio was founded with this wonderful, glorious Home Rule ability, which allows municipalities to institute the kind of laws that make their villages and their towns and their cities a better place in their eyes,” Yellow Springs Mayor Pam Conine said after the referendum passed. “And if I may, I just want to make sure everyone understands that currently, according to the Ohio Constitution, every citizen of the United States is entitled to vote.”
Yellow Springs Council President Brian Housh said that the referendum would have allowed about 30 noncitizens who lived in the village to vote in local elections.
“Honestly, we really didn’t think it was that big as a deal,” Housh told the Dayton Daily News. “It’s a local issue, it’s about local issues.”
“We weren’t trying to start anything with the state; people here just believed their neighbors who are part of this community should have a say in how it is run,” Housh added.
Housh believes there is political motivation behind Issue 2.
“It seems to me like a way for the Republicans to bait their base and get them fired up about the election,” Housh told reporters. “There’s a lot of hostility towards immigrants out there.”
The amendment easily passed through the GOP-controlled Ohio legislature earlier this year.
LaRose has said that allowing noncitizens to vote would “cheapen the value of citizenship.”
“The state law has always been clear that only U.S. citizens can vote in state elections and there is a federal law that prevents non-citizens from voting in federal elections,” LaRose said in a statement.
A Spectrum News/Siena College survey of Ohio voters on Sept. 28 revealed that 59 percent will vote “yes” on Issue 2, while 38 percent said they will vote no.
According to the poll, 54 percent of Democrats responded that they would oppose “a state constitutional amendment that would prohibit local governments from allowing noncitizens to vote in local elections,” while 43 percent said they would support the measure.
Among Republicans, 72 percent said they will support the amendment and 28 percent oppose it.
LaRose is seeking re-election against Democrat Chelsea Clark and independent Terpsehore Maras.
“I have had newly sworn citizens tell me that they think that allowing non-citizens to vote is wrong; they say, ‘Don’t cheapen the thing I have worked so hard to get—the right to vote,’” LaRose told the Dayton Daily News.
Simply put, LaRose added, the amendment should be considered “common sense.”
“Issue 2 will really just codify into our state constitution the thing that has been assumed for a long time and that is the right to vote in Ohio is a right reserved exclusively for U.S. citizens,” LaRose said.