For federal elections, the Constitution (and Amendments) say you must satisfy three (3) requirements in order to vote in a federal election.
- You must be a citizen of the United States,
- You must be at least eighteen (18) years old, and
- You must be a resident of the state in which you are casting the vote.
The problem is that third requirement, residency.
The federal government does not define how residency is to be determined. It leaves that up to the states. The problem is, the states don’t all have the same rules. In some cases, the requirements for residency are lax and it’s quite possible to be classified as a legal resident in more than one state.
Then, for each state in which (that state says) you are a legal resident, you can legally cast a vote in a federal election.
If you think that’s bad, it gets worse when you start looking at non-federal elections.
For non-federal elections – mayoral races, state government, school board elections – the Constitution and its Amendments do not require citizenship. Instead, as with the residency requirement, it is up to the states to make up their own requirements.
Thus, for non-federal elections, some states require US citizenship while others don’t.
For example, the city of Chicago allows noncitizen residents to vote in local elections.
The good news is that most states at least have residency requirements for non-federal elections. You can’t just walk up and vote without previously making some effort to be classified as a resident. (But it’s not hard to establish in many cases.)
Residency is usually tied to the income tax laws so, for example, if you pay state taxes in multiple states, then you may be qualified to vote in each of those states – each state will have to designate you as a resident thereof but, once that is established, then you typically get to vote in that state’s elections.
Of course, if you have income below the minimal, “no tax” level for that location, then you can be a resident but pay no income tax.
Most states try to write their residency requirements so you are allowed to be a resident in only one state for any given calendar year. This is often done through some state-issued document – a drivers license is common but not universal – and having resided in that state for more than half a year (184 days is the common number). This is why, for example when registering to vote, you may be asked to bring in more than six months of utility bills. You need to prove you are a resident who is actively living (and spending money) in that state.
That’s usually how it’s done, but not always. It is the exceptions that create the cracks in the dam.
With the rising popularity of the mail-in early ballot – we do these in Arizona and it’s great to vote in your pajamas without leaving the house – we will likely see an increase in the number of people actively establishing themselves as residents of multiple states for the sole purpose of casting multiple votes in federal and local elections.
According to the laws, this is perfectly legal.
But I think most will agree this is not right. “One person, one vote” is the intention.
The crack in the dam is the residency requirement, and that’s rooted in federal versus state’s rights.
In this case, what was delegated to the states was the residency requirement.
Unfortunately, fixing this is difficult. The only place it can be administered (mandated) universally is at the federal level, and that will take a constitutional amendment since it is the constitution that gave that residency requirement to the states in the first place.
Lest you think amendments to the constitution are easy to do, let me point out that constitutional amendments take 2/3 rds approval of the House, 2/3rds approval of the Senate, and then they must be approved by 3/4ths of the state legislatures.
That will take years to pass.
And remember it’s been broken for nearly 250 years already. A fix at the federal level will obviate hundreds, perhaps thousands, of state and municipal laws. That will, in turn, require re-drafting and re-passing of each of those state and municipal laws. The cost in terms of man-hours, not to mention dollars, will be staggering.
Legislators who support the change will have to weather multiple elections by constituents who are, ultimately, funding the change.
Fixing it is going to cost you and me. We will have to pay for it.
Or, can we go on without a fix at the federal level? Can’t we just apply a little SuperGlue, slap on some paint and go on about our business?
Sadly, if you’re a pessimist you might predict that, without a federal-level fix, state and municipal laws will, over time, become even more devisive. That has been the case for nearly 250 years. The states have capitalized on the issue, each to their own advantage, and from which many legislators have benefited. Is it likely to change? Is it likely those legislators will want to change it?
Man is a clever creature. Give him something and he will turn it over in his hands, poke it, push it, squish it, stand on it and, eventually, figure out how to do something with it that was never intended or imagined.
- Give me a hammer and I can drive in a screw.
- Give me a joint tenancy provision so a spouse will automatically inherit everything when their partner dies and I’ll show you how to disinherit your next spouse’s children.
- Give me the current set of laws and I’ll show you how to vote twice (or more!) this coming November for the person you think should be President.
I fear the best we can hope is simply that the water won’t top the dam into which all our fingers and toes are already stuffed.