The Council of the District of Columbia held hearings last week to consider the Local Resident Voting Rights Amendment Act of 2015, a bill that would “expand the definition of ‘qualified elector’ to include [non-citizen] permanent residents for the purpose of local elections.”
In a January statement on the bill, its author, Councilmember-At-Large David Grosso, said, “‘All politics is local’ is a common phrase in the US political system and what most District residents care about are the tangible things that affect their day-to-day lives like potholes, playgrounds, taxes, snow removal, trash collection, red light cameras and more. All of these issues are important to voters in DC. Unfortunately, not all of our residents have a say in choosing the officials who make these decisions. In my opinion, that is unjust.”
DC Board of Elections executive director Clifford Tatum told WAMU, “Allowing non-citizens to vote requires the creation and maintenance of two separate voter registration rolls, as well as a system for converting voters from the non-citizen roll to the citizen roll as they become naturalized citizens. We would also be required to conduct a separate voter registration roll maintenance process.”
Councilmember Brianne Nadeau argued that the bill should be considered despite the additional costs and complications and said, “We always have to be careful in government and to lead when we see obstacles and when we see bureaucratic hurdles, to make sure they are not what stands between us and doing the right thing for our residents.”
Local Washington DC activist Dorothy Brizill, an opponent of the bill, said that the legislation “is particularly sensitive and of concern to those individuals, both black and white, who are aware of the long historical struggle to secure the right to vote for all American citizens. For many, the right to vote is the essence of citizenship.”
Grosso’s statement on the bill asserted, “According to the US Census Bureau (2012), approximately 53,975 residents in the District are foreign born, but not naturalized US citizens. Over 90% of that population is 18 years of age or older. These are taxpayers who should have the opportunity to have their voices heard in local elections.” Daily Caller notes that Grosso clarified that those who would be granted voting rights under the bill “are residents who are well on their paths to citizenship.”
National Legal and Policy Center chairman Ken Boehm told National Journal that the move would be a “slippery slope” that risks “diluting the value” of US citizenship. He added, “The people who advocate this clearly think they would get the votes of the non-citizens.”
Richard Winger of Ballot Access News pointed out the fact that, if the bill were to pass, the US Congress has the authority to override it.
Non-citizen residents are currently authorized to vote in 7 US jurisdictions, 6 of which are municipalities in neighboring Maryland.
According to The Washington Post, a 2014 law passed by the Council of the District of Columbia allows undocumented immigrants to obtain driver’s licenses.