Col­lege Park

The Washington Post - - FRONT PAGE - BY RACHEL CHA­SON

has be­come the largest U.S. city to al­low nonci­t­i­zens to vote in mu­nic­i­pal elec­tions.

The Wash­ing­ton sub­urb of Col­lege Park on Tues­day be­came the largest U.S. city to al­low nonci­t­i­zens to cast bal­lots in mu­nic­i­pal elec­tions af­ter a di­vided City Coun­cil vote that re­flected the na­tion’s heated and emo­tional de­bate over il­le­gal im­mi­gra­tion.

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. Col­lege Park, home to about 32,000 and the Univer­sity of Mary­land’s flag­ship cam­pus, will join them start­ing in 2019.

The de­ci­sion to al­low un­doc­u­mented im­mi­grants, stu­dent visa hold­ers and res­i­dents with green cards to vote comes eight months into a crack­down on il­le­gal im­mi­gra­tion by Pres­i­dent Trump and one week af­ter his ad­min­is­tra­tion said it will wind down a de­por­ta­tion-re­lief pro­gram for young im­mi­grants brought here as chil­dren. Coun­cil mem­bers and ac­tiv-

ists who sup­ported the mea­sure said it would send a mes­sage that Col­lege Park is a wel­com­ing com­mu­nity for all res­i­dents, re­gard­less of le­gal sta­tus.

“Even if it weren’t for the na­tional con­text, it would be im­por­tant for us to vote in sup­port of nonci­t­i­zens vot­ing,” said for­mer mayor An­drew Fel­lows, one of 30 peo­ple to speak dur­ing the fourhour meet­ing. “We . . . should ex­per­i­ment in in­clu­siv­ity wher­ever we pos­si­bly can.”

On both sides ten­sion flared, with some in the au­di­ence boo­ing speak­ers and the mayor at one point declar­ing that there was not a com­pe­ti­tion to see who could clap the loud­est.

“I came here to have a civil dis­course, and I was called a Nazi,” said Rick Hud­son, who op­posed al­low­ing nonci­t­i­zens to vote and said the slur was di­rected at him while he waited in line to speak. “Peo­ple are afraid to speak one way or an­other on this is­sue.”

Emily Weant, who has lived in Col­lege Park since 2013, said al­low­ing nonci­t­i­zens to vote is “a slap in the face to cit­i­zens, es­pe­cially Latino im­mi­grants who have earned their cit­i­zen­ship.”

Some coun­cil mem­bers said they thought that not enough time had been de­voted to dis­cussing the char­ter amend­ment, which was in­tro­duced June 13 and has been pas­sion­ately de­bated for much of the sum­mer.

The eight-mem­ber coun­cil, which post­poned its ini­tial vote Aug. 8, dead­locked Tues­day night on two pro­posed amend­ments: whether to let city res­i­dents help make the de­ci­sion, either through a bal­lot ref­er­en­dum or a com­mit­tee of res­i­dents that would dis­cuss the is­sue; and whether to limit vot­ing rights to nonci­t­i­zens who have green cards.

Mayor Pa­trick Wo­jahn cast the tiebreak­ing vote against both mo­tions, which were in­tro­duced by coun­cil mem­ber Fa­zlul Kabir, a nat­u­ral­ized cit­i­zen.

“Post­pon­ing [a vote] at this point will only in­crease ten­sion, will only in­crease the fer­vor,” Wo­jahn said. “To me, ex­pand­ing ac­cess to the right to vote in our city is some­thing that ex­pands our com­mu­nity voice, not some­thing that con­tracts it.”

The mea­sure al­low­ing nonci­t­i­zens to vote then passed 4 to 3, with Kabir ab­stain­ing.

Kabir said he sees “both sides” of the is­sue and does not think that res­i­dents who op­pose ex­pand­ing vot­ing rights are racist or xeno­pho­bic.

“I have been serv­ing them for many years now, and I know they are not that type of peo­ple,” he said, chok­ing up.

Only a hand­ful of ju­ris­dic­tions out­side Mary­land have taken steps to al­low nonci­t­i­zens to vote, ac­cord­ing to Ron Hay­duk, an as­so­ciate pro­fes­sor of po­lit­i­cal science at San Francisco State Univer­sity and an ex­pert on nonci­t­i­zen vot­ing laws.

San Francisco vot­ers ap­proved a ref­er­en­dum in Novem­ber to al­low nonci­t­i­zens with chil­dren in pub­lic schools to vote in school board elec­tions. Chicago has al­lowed nonci­t­i­zens to vote in school board elec­tions since 1989.

In Mas­sachusetts, Amherst, Cam­bridge, New­ton and Brook­line have passed laws that would al­low le­gal per­ma­nent res­i­dents to vote but can­not put them into ef­fect un­less the state passes its own leg­is­la­tion.

De­spite the pas­sion on both sides, the im­pact of ex­pand­ing vot­ing rights to nonci­t­i­zens has been min­i­mal. In Hy­attsville, 33 city-only vot­ers reg­is­tered for lo­cal elec­tions in May — the first since the 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 city clerk will keep a list of reg­is­tered vot­ers sep­a­rate from the one main­tained by the Prince Ge­orge’s County Board of Elec­tions for county, state and fed­eral con­tests.

To vote in city elec­tions, nonci­t­i­zens must be Col­lege Park res­i­dents, at least 18 by the date of the next city elec­tion and not reg­is­tered to vote else­where. They are in­el­i­gi­ble if they are in prison for a felony, un­able to com­mu­ni­cate a de­sire to vote or have been con­victed of buy­ing or sell­ing votes.

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

Coun­cil mem­bers Christine Na­gle, Mon­roe Den­nis, Stephanie Stul­lich and P. J. Bren­nan voted for the amend­ment. Coun­cil mem­bers Mary Cook, Dustyn Ku­jawa and Robert Day voted against it.

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