The Immigrant Voting Project and
New York University Law Students for Human Rights
Resident Noncitizen Voting in New Jersey:
New Jersey, like many other early states, initially predicated voting rights on property and residence rather than citizenship. New Jersey’s original state Constitution did not restrict suffrage based on citizenship status or gender; notably, women could vote in the state until a constitutional amendment put a stop to the practice in 1807. The New Jersey Constitution of 1776 provided that:
“[A]ll inhabitants of this Colony, of full age, who are worth fifty pounds proclamation money, clear estate in the same, and have resided within the county in which they claim a vote for twelve months immediately preceding the election, shall be entitled to vote for Representatives in Council and Assembly; and also for all other public officers, that shall be elected by the people of the county at large.”
By the time of the Constitutional Convention of 1844, however, delegates appeared to take for granted that non-citizens would not be given suffrage. Although the proposal was rejected, some delegates even suggested that naturalized citizens be required to wait for one year before being granted the vote:
“In the Convention of 1844 a minority favored the insertion of an amendment the effect of which would have been to exclude naturalized citizens from voting for a period of one year. Those who advanced this proposal were concerned to prevent the fraud and corruption attendant upon the naturalization of aliens on the eve of an election. Opponents of the measure argued that there should be no distinction between native-born and naturalized citizens. The matter was considered in the Committee on the Right of Suffrage, but it had received no support. The amendment was defeated without a record vote in the Committee of the Whole and was later negatived by the convention by a vote of 35-14.”
The 1844 Constitution’s article on suffrage was considerably more restrictive than New Jersey’s founding document, providing that “[e]very white male citizen of the United States, of the age of twenty-one years, who shall have been a resident of this State one year, and of the county in which he claims his vote five months, next before the election, shall be entitled to vote for all officers that now are, or hereafter may be, elective by the people,” and specifically excluding paupers, idiots, and certain convicts from suffrage. The Constitution was subsequently amended to include non-whites in 1875, but New Jersey did not reinstate female suffrage until the 19th Amendment to the Federal Constitution was passed in 1920.
It appears that before the Constitution of 1844, taxpaying non-citizens voted in some local or school elections in practice. As late as 1855, the superintendent of the township of North Brunswick challenged the results of an election altering the school district on the basis that “of 82 affirmative votes, 51 were the votes of persons residing in the district liable to be taxed agreeably to the existing laws, but not citizens of the United States.” The non-citizens claimed that as “taxable inhabitants” of the school district, they were entitled by the laws establishing public schools to vote in the school district elections. However, the New Jersey Supreme Court invalidated the election, insisting that the 1844 Constitution precluded non-citizen voting in any public election in the state:
“[W]hatever might have been meant by the expression [“taxable inhabitant”] before the constitution of 1844, since the adoption of that instrument, I think, we are bound to limit the meaning to such inhabitants as are taxable and as are entitled to the right of suffrage by the second article. By that article, the persons entitled to vote for all officers who are or hereafter may be elected by the people are declared to be white male citizens. This applies not only to officers whose election is provided for by the constitution, but to all who are or may be elected by virtue of an act of the legislature. Trustees of school districts are such officers, as constables and other township officers are.”
The prohibition on non-citizen voting has continued to the present day. New Jersey’s current Constitution, first adopted in 1947, as currently amended, provides that:
“Every citizen of the United States, of the age of l8 years, who shall have been a resident of this State and of the county in which he claims his vote 30 days, next before the election, shall be entitled to vote for all officers that now are or hereafter may be elective by the people, and upon all questions which may be submitted to a vote of the people.”
Although the current Constitution thus restricts suffrage to U.S. citizens, the New Jersey Law Journal, drawing on the state’s early tradition of local non-citizen voting, published an editorial in 1996 supporting a constitutional amendment to allow non-citizen at the local level. The editors wrote:
“Non-citizenship is the most important present impediment to suffrage. At the local level, we wonder why. Why shouldn’t those who legally reside in our communities be allowed to vote in municipal and school district elections even though not yet citizens? Surely they have a stake in safe streets, honest officials and the efficient provision of municipal services. Their children attend the public schools and they have an obvious interest in holding educators accountable. To the extent that local issues are decided at the local level, we see no reasonable basis for excluding resident aliens from the decision-making process.”
 NJ Const. of 1776, Art. IV.
 New Jersey began to require U.S. citizenship by statute at some point between 1776 and 1844. We have not yet identified the relevant year and statute.
 Governor’s Committee on Preparatory Research for the New Jersey Constitutional Convention, State of New Jersey Constitutional Convention of 1947, Volume 2, 1362 (1947). A minority of delegates to the 1844 convention also proposed that suffrage be restricted to those who could read English. Id. at 1364.
 Quoted in Governor’s Committee on Preparatory Research for the New Jersey Constitutional Convention, State of New Jersey Constitutional Convention of 1947, Volume 2, 1361 (1947).
 Governor’s Committee on Preparatory Research for the New Jersey Constitutional Convention, State of New Jersey Constitutional Convention of 1947, Volume 2 1362 (1947).
 Elkin v. Deshler, 25 N.J.L. 177 (1855).
 Elkin v. Deshler, 25 N.J.L. 177 (1855).
 NJ Const. Art. II, § 1, Para. 3.
 Broadening the Franchise, New Jersey Law Journal, May 20, 1996 at 28.