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Ky. House, Senate pass constitutional amendments to ban noncitizen voting

Sen. Jason Howell R-Murray (right) and Senate President Robert Stivers, R-Manchester presents Senate Bill 5 an act that provides a framework for parents to challenge material in public schools that maybe obscene and inappropriate.
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Sen. Jason Howell R-Murray (right) is sponsoring legislation to ensure non-citizens can't vote in Kentucky.

Noncitizens cannot vote in any local or state elections in Kentucky. An amendment passed the Senate Monday that would further codify the ban into the Kentucky Constitution.

The Kentucky Constitution says that “every citizen of the United States” with Kentucky residency is eligible to vote in the state’s elections. Some lawmakers say that the wording should be more restrictive, to keep municipalities from allowing noncitizens to vote in local elections.

Republican Sen. Jason Howell from Murray, the bill’s lead sponsor, said he hopes his legislation offers “clarity” on voter eligibility. His bill to ban noncitizens from voting passed the Senate Monday.

“This is about protecting citizens and the thousands of people who’ve lawfully navigated the immigration process. One of the rewards of doing so is earning the right to vote,” Howell said.

An amendment identical to Howell’s already passed in the House of Representatives — House Bill 341, sponsored by Republican Rep. Michael Meredith, from Oakland. Because the bills mirror each other but are technically unconnected, one of the two must gain final approval from the other chamber before it can appear on the ballot in November.

“It’s odd we don’t already have this spelled out in our constitution. While this is specifically prohibited at the federal level, it isn’t addressed here in Kentucky,” Howell said in a statement.

While the U.S. Constitution clearly prohibits any noncitizen from voting, state constitutions have been slightly more lenient. Washington D.C., and a few municipalities in California, Maryland and Vermont allow noncitizens to vote in certain local elections. But noncitizens can’t vote in Kentucky.

Democratic Sen. David Yates of Louisville said he believes the amendment is redundant, and voted against the bill.

“I too would not want someone who's not a citizen of the United States to be voting in our elections. But that's not happening. And I don't think there's any fear of it happening since it's already in Kentucky's constitution,” Yates said.

Several constitutional amendments have already been proposed this session. That’s not unusual, but several of the proposed amendments have been named by Republican party leadership as priorities.

They include amendments to allow state funding for private schools, expand legislative powers, change the election year of governors, and more.

However, only four amendments can be put before the voters this year. Democratic Sen. Karen Berg from Louisville said that was part of her calculation in voting “yes” on the noncitizen voting amendment.

“We get four spaces for constitutional amendments, and as far as I'm concerned, this is probably the least offensive constitutional amendment we could put on the ballot, because it would change nothing in the state of Kentucky,” Berg said. “So I'm a yes. Let's put it on the ballot.”

Berg said she is concerned that the amendment would serve as a dog-whistle, implying that noncitizens are currently allowed to vote in Kentucky, which is not the case.

LPM's state government and politics reporting is supported in part by the Corporation for Public Broadcasting.

Sylvia is the Capitol reporter for Kentucky Public Radio, a collaboration including Louisville Public Media, WEKU-Lexington, WKU Public Radio and WKMS-Murray. Email her at sgoodman@lpm.org.

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