PACIFIC STANDARD (SANTA BARBARA) -- According to Ron Hayduk, a professor of Political Science at San Francisco State University, offering voting rights to non-citizens was one way that frontier territories attracted settlers. Under the Northwest Ordinance of 1787, for example, residents in the Northwest Territory were enfranchised after three years. Under the Illinois constitution, it was just six months.
However, Hayduk points out that the naturalization process used to be quicker, easier and seemingly inevitable. “Everyone here was seen as being on a path to citizenship,” he says, “so it’s like: ‘So what? You aren’t a citizen now, but you will be.’”
Non-citizen voting peaked around the 1870s and 1880s, according to Hayduk, but lawmakers began rescinding the laws and changing their state constitutions during a broader pushback against social movements like socialism, populism and organized labor that “challenged the economic and political power of the day.” The rolling back of rights also coincided with other ways to suppress voter turnout, like poll taxes, literacy tests, felony disenfranchisement and restrictive residency requirements.