Constitutional ban on noncitizen voting falls short in Georgia Senate

Georgia Senate Pro Tem Butch Miller proposed a constitution amendment that would have prevented noncitizens from voting in the state. The measure did not receive the two-thirds majority vote in the state Senate that it would need to be placed on a ballot. State law already prevents noncitizens from voting, and it rarely happens. (ALYSSA POINTER/ALYSSA.POINTER@AJC.COM)

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Georgia Senate Pro Tem Butch Miller proposed a constitution amendment that would have prevented noncitizens from voting in the state. The measure did not receive the two-thirds majority vote in the state Senate that it would need to be placed on a ballot. State law already prevents noncitizens from voting, and it rarely happens. (ALYSSA POINTER/ALYSSA.POINTER@AJC.COM)

Voters are already required to be citizens under state law

A proposal to amend the Georgia Constitution so that it explicitly bans noncitizens from voting failed to pass the state Senate on Monday, falling short of the two-thirds majority needed to advance.

State law already limits voting to U.S. citizens, but a constitutional amendment would have prevented the Georgia General Assembly from someday passing a bill permitting noncitizens to participate in elections. New York City recently allowed its 800,000 noncitizens to vote in local elections, but there has been no effort to change the law in Georgia.

The Republican election-year proposal would have ensured that the right to vote continues to be restricted to citizens, while Democrats said the resolution was designed to motivate conservative voters.

The state Senate voted along party lines on the amendment, 33-14, five short of the votes required to approve a constitutional amendment in the 56-member body. Eight Democrats and one Republican didn’t vote.

“The intention of this legislation may be to incite a particular base in this state to try and gin up support in their own elections,” said state Sen. Emanuel Jones, a Democrat from Ellenwood. “Georgia deserves better.”

The constitutional amendment was proposed by Senate President Pro Tem Butch Miller, a Gainesville Republican running for lieutenant governor this year. Miller faces competition from a Republican colleague in the Senate, state Sen. Burt Jones, who voted for the resolution.

Miller said the constitutional amendment would solidify existing state law and block potential changes in the future.

“We’re going to exclude those who are not citizens and residents of Georgia,” Miller said. “In Georgia, voting is sacred and citizenship should matter.”

The state constitution says that citizens are entitled to vote. The proposed amendment, Senate Resolution 363, would have changed the constitution’s language to say that only citizens can vote.

Secretary of State Brad Raffensperger, another Republican who faces a tough election contest this year, has also called for a constitutional amendment preventing the possibility of noncitizens being allowed to vote in the future.

Allegations of noncitizens voting in Georgia elections are rare. The State Election Board in February imposed a $500 fine on a woman who was not a citizen when she voted in Gwinnett County in 2012 and 2016.

Even if the Senate had passed the proposal for a constitutional amendment, it would have still needed support from two-thirds of the state House followed by approval from a majority of Georgia voters in a referendum.