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The Long, Strange History of Non-Citizen Voting

Proponents say that letting recent immigrants vote in local elections is as American as apple pie. Can this isolated practice overcome political pushback and become more widespread?
A new voter registers in Los Angeles in September.
A new voter registers in Los Angeles in September. Lucy Nicholson/Reuters

It’s extremely unlikely that non-citizens will be voting in the presidential election on November 8, despite recent (and thoroughly debunked) claims to that effect by Donald Trump. And any evidence suggesting they have done so in the past is pretty weak. But here’s the thing: Non-citizens do vote in local elections, and that’s been a norm through U.S. history—not an anomaly.

It might sound outlandish and vaguely un-American, but that’s because at the moment, the practice is not very common. Six towns in Montgomery County, Maryland, including the uber-progressive D.C. suburb of Takoma Park, allow non-citizens—documented and undocumented—to vote in municipal elections. And the city of Chicago allows them to weigh in on school parent advisory boards. That’s about it.