Although historians and political scientists have long acknowledged the significant place of immigrants in American political history, the role of “alien suffrage” has not been well appreciated, and gaps remain in the scholarship about the nature of its practice. How extensively was “alien voting” practiced and what were its effects? This study addresses these questions by examining eleven of the forty states that allowed non-citizens to vote before obtaining citizenship. These states, located in the Midwest, South and West, were selected because immigrants comprised a significant proportion of their total population and allowed alien suffrage for an extended period of time (1848–1920). We develop estimates of non-citizen voters and examine ethnic voting patterns in these states to gauge their impacts on partisan dynamics in gubernatorial elections. Our findings show non-citizens voted and factored into election outcomes, furthering the incorporation of European immigrants. We also shed light on the unsavory side of alien suffrage, which contributed to a form of settler colonialism and functioned to block or delay the enfranchisement of African Americans and women. We conclude with a discussion of the implications of these findings for our understanding of immigrant political incorporation in American political history, as well as for contemporary debates about the revival of the legal practice of non-citizen voting in the United States.

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