Voting sign on Election Day 2018
D.C. Councilmember Brianne Nadeau (D-Ward 1) has re-introduced a bill that would allow non-citizens to vote in local D.C. elections. The bill would expand voting eligibility to legal permanent residents — Green Card-holders — and would apply to the elections for mayor, D.C. Council, State Board of Education, Advisory Neighborhood Commissions, and attorney general.
"People who have made their permanent homes here should have a hand in who represents them in government," Nadeau said in a press release on Wednesday. "The District of Columbia has long been a place that has welcomed immigrants into our community, and it's time to allow for their full participation in our institutions."
At-Large councilmembers Elissa Silverman, Robert White, and Christina Henderson, along with Ward 2 Councilmember Brooke Pinto, Ward 4 Councilmember Janeese Lewis George, and Ward 6 Councilmember Charles Allen co-introduced the bill.
Similar bills have been introduced in the D.C. Council several other times — including in 2013, 2015, 2017, and 2019 — but never advanced beyond a public hearing. Allen chairs the Committee of the Judiciary and Public Safety, which will decide whether to advance the bill. Pinto, who joined Allen in co-introducing the bill, is also a member of the committee.
Speaking during a hearing in 2015, a D.C. elections official said one of the challenges to expanding voting rights to include legal permanent residents would be that it would require a separate registry for voters who would be allowed to cast ballots in local races — but not federal ones. Given the need for a new registry and the fact that the change would need to be funded in next year's budget, it's unlikely that voting eligibility could actually expand in time for the 2022 election cycle even if the bill passes during this council session.
Legal permanent residents pay taxes, but cannot currently vote and do not serve on juries. A 2018 study by the Urban Institute estimated that roughly 10% of the city's population is foreign-born, though it is unclear how many are legal permanent residents. According to the U.S. Department of Homeland Security, immigrants across the U.S. maintain legal permanent residence for an average of eight years before naturalizing.
Several jurisdictions in the Maryland suburbs — including Hyattsville, Mount Rainier, and Takoma Park — already allow people who aren't U.S. citizens to vote in municipal elections. In 2017, the College Park City Council voted 4-3 in favor of a measure that would have let non-citizens vote in elections. That initially led city leaders to believe they had passed the measure, but they later realized that they in fact needed a supermajority to change voting rules, which means that the measure ultimately failed.
In the past, the effect of these voting-eligibility expansions was fairly small in terms of actual registrations. In 2017, the Washington Post reported that 20 non-citizens registered to vote in Mount Rainier after the expansion.
But there are some signs that registration numbers are growing as a result of more deliberate outreach to immigrants.
Hyattsville doesn't collect citizenship information for registered voters, but has a city-only registry that's open to individuals who live in Hyattsville and either don't want to register to vote with the state or aren't eligible to. (In addition to allowing non-citizens to vote, Hyattsville also has a voting age of 16 — lower than the state's.) There were 33 city-only voters in the 2017 elections in Hyattsville 2017, according to the Post. But according to the Hyattsville city clerk's office, the city now has approximately 250 city-only voters. It registered 110 city-only voters alone on its election day this May.
"We did quote a bit of outreach, including specific outreach to our Latinx community," wrote City Clerk Laura Reams in an email to DCist/WAMU.
This story is from DCist.com, the local news website of WAMU.