This morning along with Councilmembers Graham, Bowser and Wells, I introduced the Local Resident Voting Rights Act of 2013. This bill would grant DC residents who are not U.S. citizens but are legal permanent residents voting rights for local municipal elections.
“All politics is local” is a common phrase in the U.S. political system. And while plenty of ink is spilled in this town giving the play-by-play on the endless rounds of political tug-a-war on the federal level, what most District residents care are the tangible things that affect their day-to-day life.
Pot holes, community centers, playgrounds, minimum wage, taxes, supercans, snow removal, alley closings, alcohol license moratoriums, red light cameras…these are all important issues that voters in the District of Columbia entrust their leaders with. And unfortunately, not all of our residents have say in choosing the individuals who make these decisions. In my opinion, that is unjust.
Since 1970, the District of Columbia has had a steady increase in the number of foreign-born residents. According to the U.S. Census Bureau (2012), approximately 53,975 residents in the District are foreign born, but not naturalized U.S. citizens. Over 90% of that population is 18 years of age or older. These are law-abiding taxpayers who should have the opportunity to have their voices heard in local elections.
For most of American history, noncitizens were permitted to vote in 22 states and federal territories. It was not until the 1920s that, amidst anti-immigrant hysteria, lawmakers began to bar noncitizens from voting in local and statewide elections.
Currently, there are seven jurisdictions where noncitizens can vote in local elections in the U.S., six of which are in neighboring Maryland. None of these cities or towns has experienced incidents of voting fraud with regard to noncitizens voting in federal elections.
A similar bill was introduced in the Council in 2004 and unfortunately due to the political climate at the time regarding immigration reform, did not receive a full consideration by this Council. Almost ten years later, its time for us to reignite this conversation. After all, if we are in fact ‘One City’, how can we continue to deny every legal District resident of age their one vote?