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