You buys your ticket and you takes your chances

Yesterday, the Boston Herald published a column in favor of a plan to grant the vote to non-citizens. It’s a very limited proposal — only those here legally would be given the franchise, and only in city elections — but it’s still a step in the wrong direction.

It’s a compelling argument. These resident aliens are playing by the rules, came here legally, and pay their taxes and contribute to the society. Why shouldn’t they get some say? As the columnist says, isn’t this a violation of the “no taxation without representation?”

Yeah, in a sense it is, but there’s a bigger issue here.

The right to vote is part and parcel with citizenship now, and I think it ought to stay that way. Part of the process of becoming a citizen is renouncing one’s ties to one’s mother country and investing in your new country’s future — investing both your own life and that of your descendants. You are committing yourself, completely and irrevocably, to the future of your new nation. At that point — and only at that point — should you be given a voice in how that future unfolds.

When a non-citizen is given a vote, they can cast that vote with impunity, safe in the knowledge that they are not bound to live with the consequences of their votes. If things get too bad, they can bail out and return to the land of their birth, leaving the poor bastards shackled with citizenship to pick up the pieces.

The author’s “unfairness” argument does have some merits, but I think he is grasping for the wrong solution. Yes, the time, energy, and money involved in becoming an American citizen is very high. But the answer is not to bypass some parts of it, but rather to look at what makes that process so costly — and see if there are places where we can streamline it.

I have tremendous respect for those who have become naturalized American citizens. They know precisely the cost of that which I have taken for granted all my life, and as such have a greater appreciation for it than I do. Further, considering how many aliens come here illegally, and how easy it is, it takes a great strength of character to “do it right,” as the people the columnist wishes to reward with the vote.

I can sympathize with him, and understand his instinctive move towards rewarding those playing by the rules. But I can’t help but conclude that it’s the wrong cure for the problem.

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