The topic of voting rights and who those rights extend to has been a historic debate. According to Federal law, only U.S. citizens can vote in federal elections. However, state laws have been more vague when it comes to who can and can not vote in state and local elections. Some states, such as Arizona and North Dakota, have passed legislation restricting voting rights to only U.S. citizens. On the other hand, parts of Maryland and San Francisco, California, allow non-citizens to vote in local elections.
In 2017, San Francisco passed Proposition N, which gives non-citizen residents of the city the right to vote in school board elections. The voter must be the parent or legal guardian of a child in the city’s school system. The school board announced that every parent should have a say in their child’s education (Carcamo 2018). Advocates who support allowing non-citizens to vote in local elections say that it gives all residents a stake in their community. Additionally, when parents have a say in school board elections, their children may become more invested in their education. A major concern for these voters is the possibility that immigration services could be made aware of undocumented immigrants when they vote. This could be the reason why voter turnout has been low for non citizens in San Francisco.
In Maryland, ten districts allow noncitizens to vote in local elections. These municipalities are Takoma Park, Barnesville, Martin’s Additions, Somerset, Chevy Chase Sections 3 and 5, Glen Echo, Garrett Park, Hyattsville, Mount Rainer, and Riverdale Park. Now, undocumented immigrants, student visa holders, and residents with a green card, can have a say in local decisions. Maryland’s state constitution gives more power to local governments to organize their own elections compared to other states. Patrick Paschell, a former member of the Hyattsville’s council reported that “we very intentionally made it so that we did not have questions about citizenship status (Fritze 2017).” Paschell was a leader in making Hyattsville’s legislation concerning noncitizen voting. His main goal was to leave out citizenship status questions when registering to vote in order to protect an individual's identity. This part of the legislation can be the reason why Hyattsville has a larger non-citizen voter turnout compared to San Francisco.
Residents of any community should be able to have their voices heard, especially when it comes to parental decisions on a child's education. San Francisco and parts of Maryland have made significant strides towards expanding residents rights. Since these areas have allowed noncitizens to vote in local elections, many other areas are now pushing for similar legislation.