Municipal Suffrage, Sanctuary Cities, and the Contested Meaning of Citizenship

Kenneth Stahl
Date of Publication: 
January, 2018
Source Organization: 

Adapted from his forthcoming book, The Democratic City: Local Citizenship in the Time of Globalization, this blog post by Kenneth Stahl examines how differing rules regarding suffrage at the local and federal level suggest the existence of different models of citizenship. For example, while San Francisco, Chicago and a few municipalities in Maryland grant non-citizens the right to vote in certain local elections, these individuals are barred from voting in state and federal elections. The author suggests residency and a sense of commonly shared interest are at the heart of local understandings of citizenship, in contrast to the federal level which grounds citizenship in birth or lineage. He suggests that cities, open to and dependent upon foreign capital and immigrant workers, have developed this approach in order to survive and prosper in a globalized economy. Narrowly defining citizenship at the local level may dissuade people and capital from locating in a particular city. To be competitive, cities must expand opportunities for civic participation to all who reside there. At the federal level, however, citizenship is connected to territory, and therefore limiting the right to vote can be seen as part of an effort to control a nation's borders. The author believes these two conceptions of citizenship had historically complemented each other, but that they are now increasingly in conflict. He also suggests that fluid conceptions of citizenship are alarming to those who are not as mobile as those making choices about which city or country to reside in. He concludes that competing visions of citizenship and the nature of cities in a globalized economy will continue to be flashpoints for conflict. (Erik Jacobson, Montclair State University)

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Stahl, K. (2018). Municipal Suffrage, Sanctuary Cities, and the Contested Meaning of Citizenship. Retrieved from