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Providing Voting Rights to Resident Aliens

Voting in flat style

In a democratic state, the right to vote is considered as a supreme right because voting signifies preservation of all rights. This right enables a person to withhold political power to protect his and his community’s interest in the legislative forum[1]. It is presumed that this right comprises a representation of fairly all people and no exclusion is there and is not denied to a particular segment on the basis of a suspect classification or through any other distinguishable means. 
With the advent of globalization, and the establishment of international relations, More people begun to mobilize from one nation-state to another to seek better opportunities in terms of employment, lifestyle and overall development, but now when there is an increase in this practice, there is now a problem of representation of them in the sovereign, their voice representing in that hosting state, their right to vote.  By immigration, a person loses the sending state’s citizenship & rights attached to it and in the host state, they are treated as resident aliens with minimum or no political rights at all living them in the doldrums.
India’s Position:
The only major case of granting voting rights to resident aliens was done in 2014, whereby Election Commission allowed Tibetans in exile to register as voters.[2]The principle ‘To vote is synonymous to be a citizen’ is followed in India.[3] Here, right to vote is a statutory right indicated by the Constitution and the Representation of People’s Act, 1951 whereby only citizens above 18 years of age are eligible to vote whose names are included in electoral rolls.[4] Hence, resident aliens are given no political rights. Recently, this issue was raised in Assam’s National Register of Citizens (NRC)[5], whereby, if a person’s citizenship was in question, he would be considered as a doubtful voter or d-voter whose voting privileges will be decided only after he is absolutely established as a citizen of India, establishing these rights as exclusively for citizens.[6]
The state’s stand for not granting voting rights to these people is based on the suspicion and ‘alien-ness’ of these people, that giving them rights might potentially lead to future risk and harm which the citizen might have to bear, hence questioning their loyalty and commitment to the country, that might cause disruption and subversion which will be harmful to the state. The other reason is to maintain the state’s ethnicity, its social and cultural values which will be affected if resident aliens are treated with inclusive nature. Also, because they lack cultural awareness, norms, and traditions of the community, they might not feel same for the community and therefore lack to identify the problems faced by the people and choose an appropriate candidate. Owning to lack of awareness they may also become a victim of voter fraud or there may be instances of bloc voting.[7]
World’s Stance:
Resident aliens have got voting rights universally in an irregular form with some states granting complete power to vote in national elections whereas some votes only at local levels.[8] An estimate of 65 states grants a franchise to them in some way or another.[9] New Zealand has the most inclusive franchise which grants access to voting rights based on one year of residence in the state.[10] The Maastricht Treaty which established the European Union enables citizen of EU to vote and stand as a candidate in local as well as European elections regardless of their nationality.[11] The United States grants franchise on authorization from the state constitution, statute or local ordinance to participate in local elections[12]. Some states provide franchise on a ‘Quid pro-Quo’ basis where they provide franchise on a mutual basis like in the United Kingdom.[13]
The reason for granting a franchise to them is to maintain the true essence of democracy and its legitimacy. Resident aliens may be more likely to commit to the interests and development of the hosting country if they have been granted franchise and also it may act as an incentive for them to acquire citizenship through naturalization in near future. [14]Every State’s decision is binding on them which affect their lives, therefore, they should have right to elect their representative when they are already been granted equal social and economic rights, they are also eligible to get political rights also.[15]
In times of globalization, state should be inclusive of all sects and communities and for the country like India where ‘Unity in diversity’ is preached,  no distinction should be made between citizens and resident aliens in terms of suffrage when they are already being distinguished from citizens in terms of easy mobility, employment opportunities, diplomatic protection, etc. The act of leaving their homeland and going through various and arduous procedural measures to come into host country gives proof of their loyalty and commitment towards the state and signifies their desire to be part of this country. Lack of cultural knowledge and ethics is no reason to forbid suffrage to them because for a country like India, there is diversity amongst communities and absolute cultural knowledge is difficult to attain even for the citizens and the definition of knowledge cannot be inferred. Also, there are already voters who lack sufficient knowledge but still are eligible to vote, furthermore, it will be the duty of the candidates fighting an election to educate and make aware these people to secure their votes, eventually leading to, them becoming aware of the situations. Finally, it is the state’s duty to avoid voter fraud and frame strict laws which shall be applicable to both citizens and them because of equal protection and treatment before the law.
In conclusion, there is no strong reason to forbid political rights to these people when they are living under the same territory, drive on the same highway, subject to same laws, breathe the same air, require the same police and fire protection. To deny them right to vote is to snatch away their voices from the government’s stake which affect their lives.[16]



[1] Gerald M. Rosberg , Aliens and Equal Protection: Why Not the Right to Vote?,75 Mich. L. Rev. 1092, 1092(1997).

[2] To be or not to be: Voting rights for Tibetans in India decoded, (last visited Jun. 16, 2019).

[3] Supra note 1.

[4] CIC/SA/C/2015/000157

[5] To be or not to be: Voting rights for Tibetans in India decoded, (last visited Jun. 16, 2019).

[6] Assam NRC final draft: Unable to prove their citizenship during verification, D-voters have been detained, sent to camps, (last visited Jun. 16, 2019).

[7] X, Supra note 1.

[8] Rainer Bauböck, Expansive Citizenship: Voting beyond Territory and Membership, 38 PS Political Sci. Politics 683, 683 (2005).

[9] The next step for suffrage: give all immigrants the right to vote, (last visited Jun. 20, 2019).

[10] Who Can and Can’t Enroll?, (last visited Jun 20, 2019).

[11] Treaty on European Union (Maastricht text), July 29, 1992, 1992 O.J. C 191/1

[12] 18 U.S. Code § 611.

[13] Supra note 8.

[14]Supra note 1.

[15]Supra note 8.

[16] Supra note 1.



Rajat Chawda is a second-year student of BA LLB (Hons.) at the Institute of Law, Nirma University, Ahmedabad.


In Content Picture Credit: Arizona Capitol Times

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