Col­lege Park mea­sure on nonci­t­i­zens vot­ing failed

Of­fi­cials thought they ap­proved change; it re­ally needs a su­per­ma­jor­ity

The Washington Post Sunday - - LOCAL OPINIONS - BY SPENCER S. HSU spencer.hsu@wash­post.com

The Washington sub­urb of Col­lege Park, Md., whose city lead­ers thought Tues­day they had ap­proved a mea­sure to al­low nonci­t­i­zens to vote in city elec­tions, said that in fact the change did not gain the re­quired votes for ap­proval and was not adopted.

“It is with con­sid­er­able em­bar­rass­ment and re­gret that we acknowledge our over­sight,” Mayor Pa­trick Wo­jahn and City Coun­cil mem­bers said Satur­day.

The mea­sure, it turns out, needed more “yes” votes than it got.

The ini­tial coun­cil ac­tion came by a 4-to-3 vote af­ter a heated and emo­tional de­bate over il­le­gal im­mi­gra­tion, and it ap­peared to make the home of about 32,000 res­i­dents and the Univer­sity of Mary­land’s flag­ship cam­pus the largest U.S. city to al­low nonci­t­i­zens to cast bal­lots in mu­nic­i­pal elec­tions.

But in a three-para­graph state­ment late Fri­day, the city said that while most coun­cil ac­tions re­quire a sim­ple ma­jor­ity of mem­bers present to pass, char­ter amend­ments such as the vot­ing mea­sure re­quire a su­per­ma­jor­ity of six votes from the nine-mem­ber coun­cil.

The change re­quir­ing a su­per­ma­jor­ity of the votes that in­clude the mayor and eight district rep­re­sen­ta­tives took ef­fect in June. The nonci­t­i­zen-vot­ing char­ter change pro­posal was in­tro­duced June 13.

“There­fore, Char­ter Amend­ment 17-CR-02 was not adopted,” the city state­ment said.

Un­like most other states, Mary­land al­lows towns and cities to de­cide who can vote in lo­cal elec­tions. In re­cent years, Hy­attsville, Mount Rainier, Takoma Park and sev­eral smaller towns have ex­tended that priv­i­lege to nonci­t­i­zens.

“We will con­tinue to seek ways to make ev­ery­one feel wel­come and in­cluded in our City.” Col­lege Park’s mayor and coun­cil, in a state­ment

On Satur­day, Col­lege Park’s mayor and coun­cil apol­o­gized to res­i­dents.

“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 mayor and coun­cil said in the state­ment. They added their ap­pre­ci­a­tion of the en­gage­ment and time in­vested by res­i­dents, con­clud­ing, “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.”

On Tues­day, Wo­jahn cast the de­cid­ing vote killing mo­tions that would have let city res­i­dents weigh in on the de­ci­sion ei­ther by ref­er­en­dum or ad­vi­sory com­mit­tee, which would have lim­ited the ex­pan­sion of the vote.

De­spite the pas­sion on both sides, the ef­fect of ex­pand­ing vot­ing rights to nonci­t­i­zens has been min­i­mal. In Hy­attsville, 33 city­only vot­ers reg­is­tered for lo­cal elec­tions in May — the first since its amend­ment passed in De­cem­ber — and 12 ac­tu­ally voted, ac­cord­ing to a let­ter signed by sev­eral ad­vo­cacy groups. In Mount Rainier, 20 nonci­t­i­zens reg­is­tered to vote.

The Col­lege Park pro­posal to al­low un­doc­u­mented im­mi­grants, stu­dent visa hold­ers and res­i­dents with green cards to vote start­ing in 2019 came eight months into a crack­down on il­le­gal im­mi­gra­tion by Pres­i­dent Trump and one week af­ter his administration said it would wind down a de­por­ta­tion-re­lief pro­gram for im­mi­grants il­le­gally brought to the United States as chil­dren.

About 20 per­cent of the city’s 32,275 res­i­dents are for­eign-born, ac­cord­ing to data from the Cen­sus Bureau. The U-Md. cam­pus, with more than 27,000 un­der­grad­u­ates, has about 3,600 in­ter­na­tional stu­dents.

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