Elections, West Virginia Legislature

Senate Judiciary OKs House resolution to forbid non-citizen voting in the state

MORGANTOWN – A House resolution for a proposed constitutional amendment prohibiting non-citizen voting in local elections took another step forward on Wednesday, with Senate Judiciary approving an amended version of it.

HJR 21 proposes a constitutional amendment to add this to the section dealing with who is and is not allowed to vote (Article IV, 4-1): “nor shall any person who is not a citizen of the United States be entitled to vote at any election held within this state.”

The House adopted it unanimously on Feb. 6, and if adopted by the Senate, it will return to the House for amendment concurrence. If finally approved, the proposed amendment would go before voters in November.

Senators learned that non-citizens cannot now vote under state statute, but this resolution would put it into the state Constitution so that counties and cities couldn’t attempt to override it.

Secretary of state’s general counsel David Cook and Charlie Kolean with Americans for Citizen Voting told the senators that non-citizens cannot vote in elections for federal offices but five states (including Maryland) and Washington, D.C., have laws allowing non-citizen voting in municipal elections. Six states have passed similar constitutional amendments forbidding it.

Sen. Patricia Rucker, R-Jefferson, said she would support the resolution but it has no teeth, and a bill to enforce non-citizen voting would be more beneficial.

She related her own story of becoming a naturalized citizen, but that no one has ever checked to see if she’s qualified to vote. “It’s worthless when no on asks for that piece of paper. … It seems to me that we’re just playing games.”

Sen. Mike Caputo, D-Marion, opposed the resolution outright. “I kind of find it funny that we’re discussing this.” He believes only citizens should vote but it’s not a problem in West Virginia and he’s reluctant to change the Constitution for a non-problem. “It’s a do-nothing amendment. … I don’t think this amendment does anything except scare people.”

The committee approved the amended resolution in a voice vote with Caputo providing the only audible vote against. It goes next to Finance.

Email: dbeard@dominionpost.com