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Non-Citizen Voting in College Park, Maryland

posted Sep 13, 2017, 4:01 PM by PJ Brennan

I want to thank the residents that have taken time to participate in this discussion. Your time and effort are valuable.


As the governing body for the City of College Park, this council has a duty to explore every issue thoroughly. Over the past three months, we have been discussing this issue. The city clerk has estimated that we’ve spent 2.5 hours discussing this topic of noncitizens voting in work sessions and regular meetings. This amounts to hundreds of hours of discussion in community meetings, listservs, discussions between council members and residents, and the time that’s gone into the more than 400 emails that have come into the city on this issue.


If members of this council express that they had outstanding questions on this issue, we should ask them what they’ve been doing these past few months. There has been ample time to discuss and deliberate. At the August regular meeting of the mayor and council, we postponed the motion on the charter amendment to entertain language on a referendum and other amendments. At the September work session, those interested in changes to the original motion had little to say, only vague proposals and that we should discuss this more... It's hard to discuss unarticulated proposals and proposals which introduce items that have already been refuted by other council members and residents during the public hearing.


Other council members took the August delay to further explore the legality of this issue, talking with other city officials that have adopted similar policies, asking staff about city resources to support non-citizen voting if passed, and the more principled debate of what it means to allow non-citizens to vote.  To summarize, this city is not proposing groundbreaking legislation, 8 other municipalities in our state have adopted non-citizen voting policies which is enabled by the Maryland State Constitution and these cities have been legally doing so for years - Takoma Park has been doing so since 1992. City staff has confirmed that the cost and resource demands of this initiative are within the city’s current means and would not require a tax increase or demand more staff. Which leaves the debate of for and against as a matter of principle on the table.


First, I want to say that this council will not entertain any arguments that use prejudice as the basis for opposing civil rights. To suggest that non-citizens do not have a command of the English language or local issues is an argument based on prejudice and not on the reality of noncitizens in our city. Since we’ve been discussing this issue, I’ve spoken with a number of local noncitizens who are invested in the success of our city and who are not limited to these regretful stereotypes. Further, no election in this country, on any level, requires voters to demonstrate any understanding or knowledge of the issues or candidates on the ballot.


Issues of immigration and citizenship are important topics in our country today and it’s easy to get caught up in partisan leanings. But I feel that it’s important to really focus on the fact that this charter amendment is about our city, our community, only. This proposal has the ability to impact real people in our community - people who are our neighbors and our friends.


That said…


The opposition argument that I can understand is that many feel that citizenship is a requirement to vote, plain and simple. At the federal and state level I can see arguments for citizenship as a criterion for voting because these levels of government address international trade, foreign policy, and national security measures. HOWEVER, at the municipal level, which this proposal is about, I ask you to pause and consider whether citizenship or residency is the appropriate criterion.


To do so, I think it is important that everyone understand that non-citizen residents contribute to the city tax base, these residents receive city services, these residents are involved in our civic life, and yet they do not have the right to vote.


And, when it comes to the municipal vote, residents of this city primarily vote for, what?… this city council. This city council decides how to spend tax dollars and the priorities of our city. And yet, these tax payers and receivers of city services have no say in selecting the people that make decisions that impact them.


By enfranchising non-citizen residents in municipal elections, we strengthen our communities by giving all residents equal ownership and an equal stake in the future success of our city. To remove any community from participation in city elections, be they students, woman, people of color, or non-citizens weakens representation and our cities ability to know the people we serve and how to serve them.


Non-citizens are residents of College Park and I hope we do right by ALL residents tonight. I appeal to my council colleagues to vote in support of the charter amendment.


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