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Grosso continues elections reform push with instant run off voting

For Immediate Release: 
July 11, 2017
 
Contact:
Matthew Nocella, (202) 724-8105

Grosso continues elections reform push with instant run off voting

Washington, D.C. – Today, Councilmember David Grosso (I-At Large) introduced legislation that ensures that elected officials have the support of a majority of voters by changing the way votes are counted in local elections.

The Instant Runoff Voting Amendment Act of 2017 would provide a method of casting and tabulating votes whereby a candidate for office must secure a majority of the votes cast before being declared the winner.

In the District of Columbia, primaries, open seats, and special elections result in crowded fields, as these provide opportunities for residents to give back to their communities by seeking public office.  However, victors often emerge with less than a majority of the vote.  Instant run off, or ranked choice, voting would ensure that voters’ preferences are more accurately reflected in the results.

"It is extremely troubling that candidates can be elected to public office with as little as 30 percent of the vote," said Grosso.  "This important legislation will increase voter turnout as voters will be free to mark their ballot for the candidate that they truly prefer without fear that their choice will help elect their least preferred candidate. More importantly, instant runoff voting ensures that the elected candidate has true majority support.”

When tabulating the results, the Board of Elections would proceed in rounds.  The first round eliminates the person with the fewest votes and then reallocates those votes to the voter’s second choice in the next round.  This continues until one person receives a clear majority of the vote.

“Instant runoff voting will help change how we run for office, and force fields of candidates to focus on vigorous and spirited policy debates that appeal to a wide range of voters,” said Grosso.  “In short, it will make our elections more competitive and fair, and strengthen confidence in our electoral outcomes.”

Reforming the District of Columbia’s campaigns and elections, and ensuring more residents are engaged in the political process, remains a high priority for Grosso.  Earlier this year, he introduced the Fair Elections Act of 2017, which reduces the influence of big money in local campaigns by establishing a strong public financing system, and the Local Resident Voting Rights Amendment Act of 2017, which qualifies permanent residents to vote in local elections.

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Local Resident Voting Rights Amendment Act of 2017

Local Resident Voting Rights Amendment Act of 2017

Introduced: January 24, 2017

Co-introducers: Councilmembers Grosso, Silverman, Allen, Nadeau, R. White, Evans, and Bonds

Summary: To amend the District of Columbia Election Code of 1955 to expand the definition of "qualified elector" to include permanent residents for the purpose of local elections.

Councilmember Grosso's Introduction Statement:

Thank you, Mr. Chairman. 

Today, along with Councilmembers Jack Evans, Brianne Nadeau, Elissa Silverman, and Robert White, I am introducing the Local Resident Voting Rights Amendment Act of 2017. 

This bill allows permanent residents in the District of Columbia, who are not yet U.S. citizens, the right to vote in our local municipal elections. These residents are well on their path to citizenship.  This bill will allow them to legally participation in our elections for the Mayor, Council, State Board of Education, ANC’s and the Attorney General.  

“All politics is local” is a common phrase in the U.S. political system.  What most D.C. residents care about are the local issues of city life that affect them day-to-day.  This includes our public schools, paying their taxes, having access to quality health care, crime rates in neighborhoods, and so much more.  All of these issues are important to voters in the District of Columbia but unfortunately, not all of our residents have a say in choosing the officials who make the policy decisions that will directly impact them.  In my opinion, that is unjust.

Since 1970, the District of Columbia has seen a steady increase in the number of foreign-born residents and according to the U.S. Census Bureau report in 2012, 54,000 residents in the District were foreign born, but not naturalized U.S. citizens and this number is growing.  Over 90% of legal permanent residents are 18 years of age or older. These are law-abiding taxpayers and they should have the opportunity to have their voices heard in local elections.

I recognize that this is a very political and polarizing issue further agitated by the incoming Presidential Administration and current Congressional make-up.  I strongly believe that the result of the national election reverberated in our city perhaps more than anywhere else in the nation.

Many are scared and anxious as our future and the future of our laws are at the whim of a Congress where we have no voting representation from our city, and many of its members have never set foot in our diverse neighborhoods. 

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 non-citizens from voting in local and statewide elections.  Unfortunately, this hysteria continues across the United States, but it does not need to be perpetuated in the District of Columbia.

The District of Columbia is a leader in how we relate to immigrants and we are a sanctuary city – to me that means we will protect families and communities from being torn apart by immigration policies rooted in fear and bigotry. 

I want to thank my colleagues who for co-introduced this legislation with me and welcome any other co-sponsors at this time.

Thank you.

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D.C., other cities debate whether legal immigrants should have voting rights

By Pamela Constable February 9, 2015, Washington Post

David Nolan and Helen Searls are a professional couple in the District, active in their children’s school and local civic associations. As taxpayers and longtime residents, they feel they have a duty to be involved in public life. But as legal immigrants who have not become U.S. citizens, they have no right to vote — even in local elections.

“It’s frustrating at election time to have no say in what’s happening,” said the British-born Searls, 54, who works at a media company. “Washington has people from all over the world. If they are engaged and participating in public issues, it benefits the city.”

Searls and Nolan are among 54,000 immigrants in the District — and about 12 million nationwide — who have been granted green cards that allow them to remain in the United States permanently. Most are sponsored by relatives or employers. They pay taxes and serve in the armed forces. Yet in all but a handful of localities, they have no voting rights.

Last month, for the third time in a decade, a bill was introduced in the D.C. Council to allow legal immigrants to vote locally. The measure has little chance of passage, but it is illustrative of a growing movement to expand local voting rights to noncitizens that has spawned similar proposals in several dozen communities across the country.

Most immigrant groups focus on promoting citizenship as the path to political influence, and the effort to enfranchise noncitizens remains controversial. It has succeeded in only a handful of places, including Chicago and Takoma Park, Md., but has been gaining traction recently in others, including New York City and Burlington, Vt., as the population of settled legal immigrants grows.

Student Maria Ferreira goes over her study book, which has questions about American history that she will need to know for a citizenship test. (Michael S. Williamson/The Washington Post)

Proponents point out that noncitizen voting was the norm early in American history, when new regions needed people to populate them. It was abandoned only after spates of anti-foreign sentiment in the 1860s and 1920s. Proponents have not urged that immigrants be allowed to vote for president, which is against federal law; they want them to be permitted a political role in their communities.

But opponents assert that the right to vote at any level is a defining quality of citizenship. They say it should not be easily granted to the foreign-born, who might have divided loyalties and insufficient knowledge of American democracy. And they point out that any legal permanent resident can apply to become a U.S. citizen with full voting rights after a five-year wait.

“To be a voter is to signify that you have cleared hurdles and that you understand what it means to be an American, with responsibilities as well as rights,” said Carl Horowitz, president of the National Legal and Policy Center, a conservative think tank in Falls Church, Va. Allowing noncitizens to vote, he said, “renders the idea of citizenship meaningless.”

Some opponents also think the campaign is part of a political scheme to create more Latino voters, who polls show tend to prefer Democrats — a concern that has spread with the protracted debate over illegal immigration. The largest numbers of green-card holders are from Mexico, followed by China, India and the Philippines.

D.C. Council member David Grosso (I-At Large), who introduced the immigrant voting bill last month, said his attempt in 2013 met with a “huge backlash,” and he acknowledged that the new proposal is unlikely to go far. A similar bill in 2004 also died.

“This is the right thing to do, but a lot of people still have a misguided understanding of what it’s about,” Grosso said. “I get e-mails and tweets from around the country saying I want to give the vote to people who snuck over the border.”

Despite such fears, advocates said the political impact of the noncitizen vote has often been marginal. In many cases, the impetus has come from liberal or civic groups, while the beneficiaries may be less enthusiastic or aware of the benefits.

Washingtonians David J. Nolan and his wife, Helen Searls, say they hope to become U.S. citizens so they can vote. (Michael S. Williamson/The Washington Post)

The pioneering community was Takoma Park, which gave legal immigrants voting rights in a 1991 referendum. Sean Whittaker, 46, a Canadian-born engineer who lives there, said that being able to vote made him feel as if he truly belonged in the community. In the town’s most recent election, the district candidate he supported won by six votes. “Maybe I made a difference,” Whittaker said.

Since then, four other Maryland towns have approved similar policies, although noncitizens cannot vote in state elections. In 2012, Del. Patrick L. McDonough (R-Baltimore County) sponsored a bill to ban noncitizens from voting in any Maryland locality, warning hyperbolically that even Osama bin Laden would have been allowed to vote in Takoma Park.

But the repercussions from Maryland’s experiment have been far from dire. Takoma Park officials say no more than a handful of immigrants have voted in any local election, where turnout is also generally low among citizens, too.

“This has not fulfilled either the worst predictions of critics nor the great hopes of supporters,” said state Sen. Jamin Raskin (D-Montgomery), a law professor who helped pave the legal path for the initiative. Still, he said, “it has remained an important statement of welcome, a way to give people a taste for the democratic process.”

Elsewhere in the United States, efforts to enfranchise foreign-born residents have spread to scattered municipalities, including liberal college towns such as Madison, Wis., and Amherst, Mass., and cities with large immigrant populations.

But such proposals have also encountered an array of hurdles, including conflicts with state laws, public antipathy and lack of awareness among immigrant groups. In 2010, voters in Portland, Maine, narrowly rejected a proposal for noncitizen voting in local elections, and a ballot measure in San Francisco to allow noncitizen parents to vote for school board members lost by 55 to 45 percent.

In Amherst, activist Vladi­mir Morales, who has spent a decade promoting the cause, said the idea has wide local support but continues to meet resistance from state legislators, who would have to amend home-rule laws to allow it.

“There is fear. The subject is immigration, and the representatives don’t want to touch it. It just keeps dying in committee,” said Morales, a U.S. citizen from Puerto Rico and a retired Amherst school board member.

In New York, home to about 1.3 million legal permanent residents, noncitizens were allowed to vote in school board elections from 1969 to 2003, when the board system was abolished. In recent years, a coalition of academic, political and immigrant groups has been trying to revive noncitizen voting rights and expand them to all local offices. Advocates said they are close to securing enough city council support to pass legislation this spring, but they lamented that the area’s major immigrant groups have not gotten involved.

“It’s hard to sell,” said David Andersson, the coalition coordinator. “Most voters don’t understand what legal immigrants are, and a lot of immigrant groups are focused on issues like deportation and wages. Sadly, voting is just not a priority.”

In the Washington area, few people know about Grosso’s proposal and few groups have expressed support, except the Service Employees International Union. But many of its members are not legal residents, and the union is strongly identified with illegal-immigrant causes.

Still, a variety of legal immigrants in the District said they would welcome being able to vote for city council and Board of Education members. Some said they wanted to become citizens but had difficulty passing the required tests in English.

At the Central American Resource Center in Northwest Washington, a half-dozen middle-aged Latinos bent over citizenship test workbooks one night last week, struggling with questions that ranged from “What is your current occupation?” to “Why did the colonists come to America?” and “What rights are in the Declaration of Independence?”

Maria Carpio, 57, a retired office cleaner from El Salvador, has been a legal resident since 1987. She said she had failed the citizenship test because of her limited eyesight and poor English, but that she volunteered to pass out fliers for a Latino school board candidate in November.

“I have worked hard here all my life,” Carpio said. “I should have the right to express my opinion.”

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Grosso Introduces Bill to Expand Voting Rights in Local Elections to Permanent Resident Immigrants in D.C.

For Immediate Release
January 20, 2015

Contact: Dionne Johnson Calhoun
(202) 724-8105

 

Grosso Introduces Bill to Expand Voting Rights in Local Elections to Permanent Resident Immigrants in D.C.

 

Washington, D.C. – Today, Councilmember David Grosso (I-At-Large) introduced the Local Resident Voting Rights Amendment Act of 2015, a bill to grant voting rights in local municipal elections to all non-citizens in D.C. with permanent residency immigration status.

The full text of Grosso's statement follows:

This morning along with Councilmembers Allen, Nadeau, Evans and Silverman, I introduced the Local Resident Voting Rights Amendment Act of 2015. This bill would grant voting rights in local municipal elections to D.C. residents who are not U.S. citizens but have permanent residency status.

“All politics is local” is a common phrase in the U.S. political system and what most District residents care about are the tangible things that affect their day-to-day lives like potholes, playgrounds, taxes, snow removal, trash collection, red light cameras and more.  All of these issues are important to voters in D.C.  Unfortunately, not all of our residents have a say in choosing the officials 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 taxpayers who should have the opportunity to have their voices heard in local elections.

For most of American history, non-citizens 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 non-citizens from voting in local and statewide elections.  Unfortunately, this hysteria continues across the United States, but it does not need to continue any longer in the District of Columbia.

Currently, there are seven jurisdictions where non-citizens 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 non-citizens 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, it did not receive full consideration by this Council. Eleven years later, the time is now to reignite this conversation.

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Local Resident Voting Rights Act of 2013

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?

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