Nonci­t­i­zens in city can’t vote af­ter all

Coun­cil backed the change 4-3, but a new rule means it needed six mem­bers in fa­vor.

Los Angeles Times - - THE NATION - By Pamela Wood

BALTIMORE — It turns out that a sub­ur­ban Mary­land city did not have enough votes af­ter all to grant vot­ing rights to nonci­t­i­zens, of­fi­cials said Satur­day.

The Col­lege Park City Coun­cil voted 4 to 3 with one mem­ber ab­stain­ing Tues­day night on an amend­ment to the city’s char­ter that would al­low nonci­t­i­zens to vote in mu­nic­i­pal elec­tions. But char­ter amend­ments need six votes of the eight­mem­ber coun­cil, the city an­nounced Satur­day.

That rule was changed in June, and the mayor and coun­cil mem­bers said they ne­glected to note that they needed six votes. “It is with con­sid­er­able em­bar­rass­ment and re­gret that we ac­knowl­edge our over­sight re­gard­ing the vote on the pro­posed Char­ter Amend­ment to al­low vot­ing by non-U.S. cit­i­zens in Col­lege Park City elec­tions,” the mayor and coun­cil said in a state­ment.

“We each ac­cept our re­spon­si­bil­ity for not re­al­iz­ing the im­pact of the June char­ter amend­ment on Coun­cil pro­ce­dures and we apol­o­gize to our res­i­dents,” the state­ment said.

It was not im­me­di­ately clear whether the coun­cil would re­con­sider the idea of al­low­ing nonci­t­i­zens to vote. It plans to dis­cuss the mat­ter at its up­com­ing work ses­sion Tues­day.

The is­sue has spurred pas­sion­ate de­bate since it was in­tro­duced in June, and Tues­day’s vote oc­curred dur­ing a tense meet­ing.

Res­i­dents who sup­ported the change said it was about civil rights. Those who op­posed it said vot­ing is a priv­i­lege that im­mi­grants should earn with cit­i­zen­ship.

The mayor and coun­cil, in their state­ment, ap­peared to al­lude to the de­bate over the is­sue: “We ap­pre­ci­ate the con­sid­er­able en­gage­ment of our com­mu­nity and the time that res­i­dents in­vested in this dis­cus­sion. We ac­knowl­edge that all res­i­dents are an im­por­tant part of the Col­lege Park com­mu­nity and we will con­tinue to seek ways to make ev­ery­one feel wel­come and in­cluded in our City.”

Had the change been legally ap­proved, Col­lege Park would have be­come the 10th and largest mu­nic­i­pal­ity in Mary­land to al­low nonci­t­i­zens to vote in lo­cal elec­tions. Col­lege Park, with about 30,000 res­i­dents, is north­east of Washington, D.C.

One of the first to al­low nonci­t­i­zen vot­ing was Takoma Park, a lib­eral com­mu­nity in Mary­land’s Mont­gomery County that ap­proved the mea­sure dur­ing a ref­er­en­dum vote in 1991. The neigh­bor­ing com­mu­nity of Hy­attsville ap­proved a sim­i­lar mea­sure last year.

Had the Col­lege Park mea­sure been ap­proved, the city clerk would have cre­ated a sup­ple­men­tal voter list that would in­clude nonci­t­i­zens who meet other qual­i­fi­ca­tions to vote in city elec­tions, such as be­ing 18 years old and not be­ing reg­is­tered to vote else­where.

The changes would have gone into ef­fect for the next round of city elec­tions, in 2019.

Fed­eral law only pro­hibits nonci­t­i­zens from vot­ing in fed­eral elec­tions, ac­cord­ing to the city. It does not pre­vent cities or states from al­low­ing nonci­t­i­zens to vote in lo­cal elec­tions.

The Col­lege Park City Coun­cil has weighed in on im­mi­gra­tion-re­lated mat­ters be­fore. Af­ter Pres­i­dent Trump is­sued an ex­ec­u­tive or­der ban­ning travel from sev­eral Mus­lim-ma­jor­ity coun­tries and halt­ing refugee re­set­tle­ment, the coun­cil passed a res­o­lu­tion con­demn­ing the pres­i­dent’s ac­tion.

The res­o­lu­tion, ap­proved in Fe­bru­ary, called the ex­ec­u­tive or­der an af­front to re­li­gious free­dom and noted that the coun­cil passed a res­o­lu­tion in March 2016 wel­com­ing refugees to Col­lege Park.

BREN­DAN SMIALOWSKI AFP/Getty Images

OF­FI­CIALS in Col­lege Park, Md., ad­mit­ted “em­bar­rass­ment” at declar­ing the mea­sure had passed.

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