voting rights

Empowering Democracy: The D.C. Noncitizen Voting Law Upheld

In a landmark decision, the U.S. District Court for the District of Columbia recently upheld a groundbreaking law that extends voting rights to certain noncitizens in local elections within the District of Columbia. This move, encapsulated in the Local Resident Voting Rights Amendment Act of 2022, signifies a pivotal moment in the nation's ongoing discourse on democracy, inclusion, and the rights of noncitizen residents.

The lawsuit, initiated by two former Republican candidates for local office and a cohort of registered district voters, sought to challenge the legality of the D.C. law, asserting that it infringed upon U.S. citizens' right to vote by diluting their votes with those of noncitizens. However, U.S. District Judge Amy Berman Jackson dismissed the suit because the plaintiffs failed to demonstrate any tangible harm or disadvantage stemming from the inclusion of noncitizens in the electorate.

Judge Jackson's ruling emphasized that the plaintiffs' votes would retain their value and weight, unaffected by the participation of noncitizens. She highlighted that the essence of their grievance was too generalized to confer legal standing, reinforcing the principle that expanding the electorate does not inherently harm existing voters.

This decision rests on a historical precedent, aligning with a 1978 D.C. Circuit ruling post-Vietnam War, which upheld the rights of returning individuals to vote, despite objections that such rights devalued the votes of others. The court's stance reaffirms that the inclusion of diverse voices in the democratic process enriches rather than diminishes the value of each vote.

The D.C. law, unanimously passed by the D.C. Council and signed by Mayor Muriel Bowser, underscores the district's commitment to an inclusive democracy where all residents, regardless of citizenship status, have a stake in local governance. This approach recognizes the integral role noncitizens play in the community, contributing to its vibrancy, economy, and cultural fabric.

The case, represented by the Immigration Reform Law Institute for the plaintiffs and the D.C. District Attorney's Office for the Board of Elections, underscores the complexities and nuances of immigration law and the rights of noncitizens within the United States. It serves as a testament to the evolving landscape of voter rights and the continual efforts to redefine the boundaries of participation in the democratic process.

For immigration attorneys and those interested in the intersection of immigration law and civil rights, this case offers valuable insights into the legal arguments surrounding noncitizen voting rights and the broader implications for electoral policies nationwide. It highlights the importance of understanding the legal frameworks that govern the rights of noncitizens and the potential for such frameworks to expand the democratic ideals of inclusivity and representation.

As the nation grapples with these critical issues, the resolution of this case in the District of Columbia serves as a beacon for other jurisdictions considering similar measures to empower their noncitizen residents. It reaffirms the foundational principle that democracy thrives when it embraces all voices within the community, paving the way for a more inclusive and equitable future.


Rae Ann Varona, "Suit Fighting DC Law That Lets Noncitizens Vote Is Tossed," Law360, March 21, 2024.

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