District of Columbia council members voiced their support Wednesday for a new law that would allow non-citizens to vote in local elections.
“These are residents who are well on their paths to citizenship,” Councilman David Grosso said. ”Unfortunately not all of our residents have a say in the politicians who are elected to represent them.”
The bill would allow permanent residents in the city who are not American citizens to vote in elections for mayor, city council, the attorney general and State Board of Education members, among other things.
“They are our neighbors and our friends and they want to see our city flourish, yet they have no say in how the city’s government is run,” said Councilwoman Elissa Silverman.
Silverman went on to say that nearly one in eight D.C. citizens are immigrants, but only about 30 percent of them are American citizens, and that “all long-term residents of a city should have a right to have a choice in who represents them.”
“This speaks to the fundamental fairness and justice of our democracy, and in particular our local democracy,” Councilman Charles Allen added.
Under the current law, a person needs to be a citizen of the United States.
One opponent is Dorothy Brizill, executive director of DCWatch– a government watchdog group in the district. Brizill said that those who fought for years to get the right to vote civil rights movement are resentful, since they were already American citizens and still had to fight.
“For many the right to vote is the essence of citizenship,” she said as she warned the council not to move too hastily to pass the legislation.
Brizill brought up the difficulties that arise when non-citizens are given the right to vote, which would require two separate voter registration rolls for citizens and non-citizens.
“Would there be confusion at the polls?” Brizill asked of the council. “We’ve already seen confusion at the past.”
If the law passes, the city’s Board of Elections would need to decide between holding an election every year or providing separate ballots for non-citizens.
If the city decides to hold an election every year, local elections and national elections would alternate each year, so immigrants and citizens can vote in local elections one year, and only citizens would be eligible to vote in national elections the next.
Clifford Tatum, director of the Board of Elections, told council members if the city decides to hold both elections the same year, the ballots for immigrants would need to look significantly different from the regular ballots so the two would not be confused.
Either way, he said, it will “require significant financial resources” to implement the law, though he couldn’t say how much it would cost.
In 2014, the city enacted a law that allows illegal immigrants to obtain drivers licenses, becoming one of just 10 states to do so.
The “limited purpose” licenses allow illegal immigrants to drive cars legally, since before the law passed they were doing so illegally. The licenses do not, though, allow immigrants to enter federal buildings or board airplanes, because they are not recognized by the federal government.
The licenses are also not recognized in any state other than the District of Columbia.