California Judge Overturns San Francisco Law Allowing Noncitizens to Vote

New York City’s identical law was recently struck down by a judge

In 2016, San Francisco voters approved a charter amendment allowing certain noncitizens to vote in school board elections. The Charter amendment also gave the County Board of Supervisors authority to extend the noncitizen voting authorization beyond 2022. On November 2, 2021, the San Francisco Board of Supervisors extended indefinitely the ordinance allowing noncitizens to vote beyond 2022.

In March 2022, California attorney James Lacy filed a lawsuit against the city and county of San Francisco over this law arguing that San Francisco residents have a clear interest in ensuring their school board elections follow state law, especially because state taxpayers partially fund school districts.

“The State of California has a long-standing requirement that voters must be United States citizens,” the lawsuit by James V. Lacy; Michael Denny; United States Justice Foundation; and California Public Policy Foundation opens with. “This requirement applies to every election in the state, even those conducted by charter cities, because determining voter qualifications is a matter of statewide concern where state law supersedes conflicting charter city ordinances. Therefore, the San Francisco ordinance authorizing noncitizen voting in elections for the San Francisco Unified School District (SFUSD) is unlawful and may not be implemented.”

San Francisco Superior Court Judge Richard Ulmer just ruled in favor of Lacy et. al. “A San Francisco law allowing noncitizen parents to vote in local school board elections was overturned Friday by a judge who said the California Constitution permits only citizens to vote,” the San Francisco Chronicle reported.

The Globe spoke with Lacy just before the hearing about the unconstitutionality of the law. He said the local law violates the California Constitution and Elections Code.

Lacy also noted that New York City’s identical law was recently struck down by a judge, which would have allowed 800,000 non-citizens to vote, setting an important precedent.

The judge said allowing non-citizens to vote “is contrary to the California Constitution and state statutes and cannot stand.”

The judge told a lawyer for the city that the power of charter cities such as San Francisco to regulate municipal affairs “does not override the Constitution,” the Chronicle reported.

“A permanent injunction has been issued to stop San Francisco from processing noncitizen voting and the Court has invited Lacy and the plaintiffs to file a motion to claim attorneys fees against the City for the action.”

“When noncitizens vote in an election, the voting rights of citizens are wrongly diluted,” Lacy said.

The lawsuit said school districts are funded with the taxes paid by each of the state’s taxpayers into the state’s general fund. When SFUSD spends taxpayer funds, it is not spending local taxpayer funds; it is spending state taxpayer funds. In this regard, everyone in the state has an interest in SFUSD’s expenditures. From that interest, everyone in the state also has an interest in ensuring that SFUSD’s governing board is elected in accordance with state law.

Lacy’s lawsuit said “While section 5 of article XI of the State Constitution gives charter cities power over their own municipal affairs, this section does not authorize Ordinance Number 206-21 because voter qualifications for school board elections are not municipal affairs.”

Click here to read the full article in the California Globe

Judge Strikes Down San Francisco Law Allowing Noncitizen Parents to Vote in School Elections

A San Francisco law allowing noncitizen parents to vote in local school board elections was overturned Friday by a judge who said the California Constitution permits only citizens to vote.

The ordinance, the first of its kind in the state, was approved by city voters as Proposition N in 2016, took effect in 2018 and was extended indefinitely by the Board of Supervisors in 2021. It allows noncitizens, including undocumented immigrants and legal residents, to vote for school board candidates if they are a parent or guardian of a school-age child and are not in prison or on parole for a felony conviction.

A lawsuit by conservative organizations cited a provision of the state Constitution that declares, “A United States citizen 18 years of age and resident in this State may vote.” Lawyers for the city contended the “may vote” language did not prohibit a local government from authorizing others to vote, but San Francisco Superior Court Judge Richard Ulmer disagreed.

“Transcendent law of California, the Constitution … reserves the right to vote to a United States citizen, contrary to (the) San Francisco ordinance,” Ulmer said in a ruling that prohibits the city from enforcing the ordinance or counting noncitizens’ votes.

Based on the logic of the city’s argument, he said, “children under 18 and residents of other states ‘may also’ vote in California elections, which our Constitution does not allow.”

If the Constitution used the word “shall” instead of “may,” Ulmer said, it would require everyone 18 or older to vote. Mandatory voting is the law in some nations, such as Argentina, Australia, Belgium, Brazil, Egypt and Thailand, but not in the U.S. or any of its states, the judge said.

He also cited a state law passed by the Legislature that specified, “A person entitled to register to vote shall be a United States citizen.” Such laws “address matters of statewide concern: education and voter qualifications,” and cannot be overridden by a local government, Ulmer said,

Ulmer had signaled his views at a hearing Thursday, when he told a lawyer for the city that the power of charter cities such as San Francisco to regulate municipal affairs “does not override the Constitution.”

James V. Lacy, who challenged the ordinance along with his organizations, the United States Justice Foundation and the California Public Policy Foundation, said the ruling was “a verdict in favor of election integrity in California.”

Jen Kwart, spokesperson for City Attorney David Chiu, said the ruling is disappointing.

Click here to read the full article in the San Francisco Chronicle