An amendment struck down by House Judiciary Democrats has led to debate online, with critics claiming the move indicates they support non-citizens voting in U.S. Elections. But the bill in question is not about expanding voting rights to non-citizens. Rather, it is about expanding a section of the Voting Rights Act to enhance access to electoral materials in minority languages.
The amendment, proposed by Republican congressman Tom McClintock, sought to spell out that a section in the bill proposed by Democrats would not be misinterpreted to permit non-citizen voting. Bill H.R.8770 aims to improve the translations of voting materials for “limited English proficient” voters.
McClintock and the House Judiciary Republicans (GOP) were alarmed by Democrats not wanting to clarify that non-citizens would be prohibited from voting in elections. A screenshot of the amendment was tweeted by the House Judiciary GOP on Sept. 21 (here) in response to a previous tweet that reads “#Breaking: Judiciary Democrats just voted to support NON-CITIZENS voting in our elections.”
Democrat Judiciary members argued that the amendment was not relevant since the bill is not about expanding voting rights to non-citizens. They argued that federal law already establishes that non-citizens cannot vote in federal elections and leaves states and local jurisdictions to determine the legislation for state and local elections.
Non-citizens cannot vote in federal, state and most local elections (www.usa.gov/who-can-vote). Federal legislation states that non-citizens may vote for other purposes, if allowed by the “state constitution, statute, or local ordinance” (here). Ballotpedia has delved into the constitutional wording used in each state when it comes to citizenship and voting (here).
WHAT IS H. R. 8770?
Currently, Section 203 of the Voting Rights Act (bit.ly/3BOslBl) requires some jurisdictions that are home to minority groups with limited English proficiency and meet specific population thresholds to provide election materials and assistance in other languages, as well as English. The threshold formula and languages this is limited to can be seen on the Department of Justice’s website (here)
U.S. House of Representatives Judiciary Committee Chairman Jerry Nadler, a supporter of the law, spoke on Sept. 21 (youtu.be/Xw2N3cCDMu8?t=9638) listing changes proposed by the law. These include requiring the Attorney General to notify jurisdictions that are close to triggering the population thresholds and creating a grant program to assist jurisdictions that want to voluntarily provide translation of materials beyond what’s required by Section 203.
H.R. 8770 and Section 203 of the Voting Rights Act are not about expanding voting rights to non-citizens or changing legislation that prohibits non-citizen voting.
Republican congressman McClintock proposed an amendment to Bill H. R. 8770 on Sept. 21 (read by the clerk around timestamp 3:00:27, youtu.be/Xw2N3cCDMu8?t=10814) saying that a section in the bill may not be interpreted as permitting “any noncitizen to vote in a Federal election” or “to encourage or require a State or political subdivision to permit any noncitizen to vote in a State or local election.”
Democratic congresswoman Jackson Lee asked fellow house members to oppose the amendment, saying, “federal law already states that a non-citizen cannot vote [in federal elections]” and that “states have a right to make their own decisions”. (youtu.be/Xw2N3cCDMu8?t=11114).
Reuters contacted McClintock. His spokesperson referred Reuters to his statements on Sept. 21 (starting around timestamp 3:01:11) (youtu.be/Xw2N3cCDMu8?t=10871), where he said that speaking English is “a requirement of citizenship”.
Being able to read, write, and speak basic English is one of the requirements for becoming a U.S. citizen through naturalization (here). But Section 203, which states it should apply when minority language groups “do not speak or understand English adequately enough to participate in the electoral process,” also covers American Indian and Alaskan languages, languages spoken by citizens who might be born in the country.
McClintock also said his “amendment simply seeks to reinforce another critical tenant of a democratic society: the principle that American citizens – and only American citizens – have the right to decide the fate of our democracy,” and that it “just makes clear that this bill does not intend to permit or encourage non-citizens to vote”.
Similarly, Russell M. Dye, Communications Director and Counsel for House Judiciary Committee Republicans, told Reuters that by voting down this amendment, “Democrats showed their support for non-citizens voting in our elections”.
“If the Democrats were happy with the law that you have to be a citizen to vote, they would have had no problem voting to include that amendment to the text. Why leave anything up for interpretation?”
Daniel Rubin, a Judiciary Committee aide, dismissed claims that by voting against the amendment, Congressional Democrats showed support for non-citizens voting in U.S. elections.
He said the amendment was voted down because it was irrelevant and unnecessary, adding that the underlying bill had nothing to do with non-citizen voting.
“(It) would not have changed a single practical aspect about federal law applicable to non-citizen voting,” he said.
Contacted by Reuters, Lillie Coney, Chief of Staff for Congresswoman Jackson Lee, echoed this saying non-citizens cannot vote in Federal elections.
Missing context. An amendment proposed by a Republican Representative and struck down by Democrats would have repeated but not changed that non-citizens cannot vote in federal elections. The amendment was for a bill expanding minority language provisions in elections. This bill was not about the legality of non-citizen voting.
This article was produced by the Reuters Fact Check team. Read more about our fact-checking work here .
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