Noncitizen Bill Makes Aliens and Diplomats D.C. Voters

Congress can stop a law that gives the franchise to any adult 30-day district resident.

Hard as it is to believe, the mayor of Washington, D.C., might soon be elected with votes from illegal immigrants or the staff at the Chinese embassy. Last month the D.C. City Council passed a bill to expand the franchise in local elections to any adult with 30 days of residency. Mayor Muriel Bowser did not sign or veto it, so the bill was officially enacted Monday without her signature.

A few jurisdictions have moved to let noncitizens vote in local races, but the D.C. plan stands out, given how it follows progressive ideas to a bizarre conclusion. New York City passed a noncitizen voting law that a court ruled this year was a violation of the state Constitution. But that proposal at least required noncitizen voters to have U.S. work authorization. No such limitation appears in the D.C. bill, meaning illegal aliens and foreign college students would be able to vote, and that’s not all.

“There’s nothing in this measure to prevent employees at embassies of governments that are openly hostile to the United States from casting ballots,” the Washington Post reported. A writer at the lefty New Republic agreed with that assessment: “A Russian diplomat could live their entire life in Moscow or St. Petersburg, take a job as a cultural attaché at Russia’s D.C. Embassy in August 2024, move into their new apartment that September, and cast a ballot in D.C.’s local elections that November.”

It reads like a bad parody of progressive decadence. Try to imagine American diplomatic personnel showing up to cast ballots for the mayor of Beijing or Moscow. Beyond that, the standard objections to noncitizen voting apply. It weakens the incentive to naturalize. Only U.S. citizens can vote in federal races, so including noncitizens in local races would force election officials to manage two voter lists and two sets of ballots. It’s begging for a fiasco.

These arguments didn’t persuade the D.C. City Council, which passed the bill 12-1 on first reading. Because the district is a federal enclave, acts of the council are subject to review by Congress, and the bill now goes to Capitol Hill. Lawmakers have 30 legislative days to object via a joint resolution.

Republican Sens. Tom Cotton and Ted Cruz have said they will seek to block the noncitizen voting proposal. Will Democrats stand in the way of that attempt? Let’s see the roll call.

Perhaps this is also a moment to think bigger. Georgia Secretary of State Brad Raffensperger has suggested “a constitutional amendment, a U.S. constitutional amendment, that only American citizens vote in our elections.” A 2024 presidential candidate who takes up that call might find a receptive public.

As for D.C., if the passage of this bill with little dissent reflects the rest of its governance, maybe Congress is overdue to consider some deeper reforms in how America’s capital city is run.

Click here to read the full article in the Wall Street Journal

Oakland Voters OK Noncitizen Voting in School Board Races, but the Measure Might Never Go Into Effect

Oakland voters say noncitizen parents or guardians of school-age children should be allowed to vote in school board elections. The issue now heads to the City Council — and after that, to the courts, which already are wrestling with a similar law in San Francisco.

Measure S, approved by 62% of the voters last Tuesday, would not immediately allow voting by non-U.S. citizens but would authorize such action by the City Council, which voted in June to place the measure on the ballot. Council members said noncitizens, including legal residents and undocumented immigrants, make up 14% of Oakland’s population and currently lack “representation in key decisions that impact their education and their lives.” About 13,000 are parents or guardians of children younger than 18.

The question now is whether the forthcoming ordinance conflicts with a long-standing provision of the California Constitution that declares, “A United States citizen 18 years of age and resident in this State may vote.”

A 2016 San Francisco ballot measure, the first in the state, allowed noncitizen parents to vote in school board elections, starting in 2018. This July, San Francisco Superior Court Judge Richard Ulmer ordered a halt to noncitizen voting in the city, saying the constitutional provision allowed only U.S. citizens to vote and could not be overridden by a local government. But the state’s First District Court of Appeal put Ulmer’s ruling on hold while the case was on appeal and allowed noncitizens to vote for school board candidates last week.

The conservative groups that challenged San Francisco’s measure, the United States Justice Foundation and the California Public Policy Foundation, also filed suit to remove Measure S from the Oakland ballot. Alameda County Superior Court Judge Michael Markman denied their request in August, saying it was premature because the measure would merely allow the City Council to pass a voting-rights ordinance. Markman said at a hearing that he thought Ulmer was probably right in deciding the state Constitution allowed only citizens to vote, but also observed that the issue would most likely be decided by higher courts.

Attorney James V. Lacy, leader of the two groups, says he plans to file another suit, probably in December, to challenge the expected Oakland ordinance. Lacy has contended the local measures would allow citizens’ votes to be “diluted” by noncitizens. He also argued — and Ulmer agreed — that the state Constitution allows only U.S. citizens to vote.

In his ruling in July, Ulmer said the Constitution’s declaration that citizens “may vote” was intended to prohibit others from voting. If “may” was changed to “shall,” he said, all citizens would be required to vote, which is the law in some nations but not in the United States. And if the provision saying citizens “may vote” does not exclude noncitizens, as the city contends, Ulmer said it would also allow children or non-Californians to vote in local elections.

Eligibility to vote, the judge said, is a matter of “statewide concern” and is not subject to varying rules by local governments, even self-governing charter cities, which include both San Francisco and Oakland.

Appeals courts, and possibly the state Supreme Court, will have the last word on noncitizen voting. But the San Francisco case is back before Ulmer, and City Attorney David Chiu’s office is urging him to reconsider the state constitutional language.

The Constitution “does not say only citizens may vote,” and leaves the door open for greater eligibility in local elections, Deputy City Attorney James Emery wrote in a filing with Ulmer last week. “Charter cities may serve as laboratories of democracy demonstrating the benefits of noncitizen voting in local contests.”

Emery cited a 1992 state Supreme Court ruling allowing Los Angeles to provide city funds to candidates for local offices, despite a state ballot measure that prohibited public funding of political campaigns. The filing also offered appreciative statements from some noncitizen parents who had voted in San Francisco school board elections.

“For the first time in my life,” said Hwaji Shin, a lawful permanent resident and mother of a child in elementary school, “ I felt like I was a full member of the school community whose voice matters.”

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

Culver City Teen Voting Measure Likely to Fall Short

Even if initiative fails, proponents call effort a success by engaging youths in democracy.

Photo courtesy of Keith Ivey, Flickr.

A youth-driven push for a ballot measure to lower the voting age will probably fall short in Culver City after months of advocacy on both sides.

The ballot initiative, known as Measure VY, would allow Culver City residents as young as 16 to vote in city and school board elections. No other municipality in the country put such a proposition before voters this election cycle.

As of Thursday evening, the latest numbers from the Los Angeles County Registrar-Recorder/County Clerk show 4,918 votes against the measure compared with 4,264 votes for it, a difference of about 54% to 46%.

Because the county has yet to finish tabulating ballots, Measure VY is not necessarily dead.

But Ada Meighan-Thiel, 17, said she recognizes it’s not looking good for the ballot measure. She and a dedicated grass-roots crew of her fellow Culver City High School students spent months advocating for it. But she hasn’t given up hope.

“We’re waiting for some more votes. … Whether those votes will be a bit more progressive than the ones who’ve already been counted is hard to say,” she said Wednesday. “Hopefully the margin will be a bit slimmer by the time we look next.”

City Clerk Jeremy Bocchino said Thursday that because the county coordinates all ballot counting, Culver City does not have any special insight into outstanding ballots.

“There’s no telling how many more ballots will be coming in,” Bocchino said, noting that vote-by-mail ballots postmarked by election day are counted if they are received with seven days. “Your guess is as good as mine as far as how many ballots are still out there and what the turnout may be. We have more than 28,000 registered to vote and we don’t know how many actually turned out to vote.”

Even if Measure VY ultimately fails, Meighan-Thiel said the excitement and awareness young Culver City residents built around lowering the voting age — a movement often referred to as “Vote 16” — made the effort a success.

“We still started a conversation about teen enfranchisement, and I think that’s really valuable regardless of outcome,” she said. “We recognize that political participation isn’t just about voting. It’s about being active in your community, and we did just that on the campaign trail.”

Andrew Wilkes is chief policy and advocacy officer for Generation Citizen, a nonpartisan national civics education organization that provided support to Measure VY proponents. He echoed Meighan-Thiel’s sentiments.

“If it goes the way the trend line holds, reaching 46% is a landmark accomplishment. I think it also represents the need and the desire for young people to participate in our democracy,” he said.

“The movement continues to grow in interest and strength. … This lays the groundwork for the baton to be passed to rising high school students.”

Across the U.S., a small number of communities have put ballot measures to lower the voting age before voters over the last decade. Six municipalities in Maryland now allow people as young as 16 to vote in some elections. In California, Berkeley and Oakland approved the practice in 2016 and 2020, respectively, but Alameda County has yet to implement the change.

Vote 16 proponents argue that if 16- and 17-year-olds can work and pay taxes, they should have a say in politics. They point to research showing that 16-year-olds have adult levels of cognitive capacity.

Opponents worry that people that age are too naive and impressionable to make informed political decisions. They also fret that allowing younger teens — who often lean left — to vote could disproportionately benefit more progressive candidates and causes.

Click here to read the full article in the LA Times

Appeals Court Allows Noncitizens to Again Vote in San Francisco School Board Elections

A California appeals court decision will effectively allow non-U.S. citizens to vote in San Francisco school board elections in November, despite a court ruling earlier this year that struck down the local law as unconstitutional.

California Superior Court Judge Richard Ulmer struck down the city’s ordinance allowing noncitizens to vote on July 29. However, the First District Court of Appeal in August granted a request by the city for a stay of the decision.

The appellate court then denied on Sept. 9 a request to expedite Ulmer’s ruling against San Francisco’s noncitizen voting law in time for the General Election.

“The constitutional challenges … are significant ones that are entitled to deliberate consideration,” according to the appeals court decision. However, the court “decline[s] to order an injunction. No extensions of time will be granted absent a showing of exceptional good cause.”

This means noncitizens can cast ballots in the Nov. 8 election, according to James V. Lacy, an attorney who filed a lawsuit against the San Francisco ordinance on behalf of conservative groups in March 2022.

Lacy told The Epoch Times that the procedural delay will harm election integrity and allow the counting of votes that a judge has already ruled are illegal.

“It puts a cloud on the election,” he said on Sept. 13. “At a time of very high skepticism in the general public about the integrity of our elections, what the court has basically done is undermining the credibility and the vote of the San Francisco election.”

San Francisco voters approved the ordinance that appeared as Proposition N on the 2016 ballot, and the law was set to expire on Dec. 31, 2022, until the city extended it indefinitely last year. Since it went into effect, noncitizens have been allowed to vote in at least four local elections, according to court documents.

According to deputy city attorneys, noncitizens may only vote in school board elections and are not given an opportunity to vote for any other office.

The underlying idea was to give noncitizen parents a say in who is elected to school boards but “the problem is that it is illegal,” Lacy told California Insider host Siyamak Khorrami in an Aug. 24 episode. “It’s alarming that this ballot initiative even got on the ballot.”

Lacy contends that voting is a fundamental right of citizens only, and a cornerstone of democracy that should not be “tinkered with.”

The California Constitution clearly states that only U.S. citizens are allowed to vote in state and local elections, Lacy told California Insider at the time.

According to the constitution, “A United States citizen 18 years of age and resident in this State may vote.” However, attorneys for the city argued the “may vote” language doesn’t prohibit a local government to allow others to vote.

In his July 29 ruling, Judge Ulmer said that based on the same flawed logic, the city could argue that “children under 18 and residents of other states ‘may also’ vote in California elections, which our Constitution does not allow.”

He said the constitution uses the words “may vote” for good reason.

“Had it instead used the mandatory word ‘shall’ … resident citizens of age would be legally required to vote. Election laws in many nations make voting mandatory, but not the United States,” Ulmer said.

Catherine Engelbrecht of True the Vote, a national election integrity watchdog group, denounced the appellate court’s decision to deny the request for expedition.

“Name any other country in the world that would allow noncitizens to vote in their country’s elections. There isn’t one,” Engelbrecht told The Epoch Times on Sept. 13.

Click here to read the full story at the Epoch Times

New Court Order Means Noncitizen Parents Can Vote in Nov. 8 Election for San Francisco School Board

Noncitizen parents will be allowed to vote in the Nov. 8 election for school board in San Francisco after a state appeals court rejected opponents’ request to decide a case about the legality of the city’s voting ordinance before then.

Conservative activists behind a lawsuit challenging the ordinance had asked the court to expedite its review of the case and, in the meantime, grant an immediate injunction to block the city from providing ballots to noncitizens. But the First District Court of Appeal in San Francisco rejected both requests in an order Thursday.

The three-member appeals panel noted, in its brief order, that opponents of the ordinance allowed “four elections to take place with noncitizen voting before filing the instant lawsuit.”

But the fate of San Francisco’s ordinance still hangs by a thread. The ordinance 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.

In August, a Superior Court judge struck down the ordinance and said only U.S. citizens are permitted to vote. Conservative groups have cited a provision in the California Constitution that declares, “A United States citizen 18 years of age and resident in this State may vote.”

San Francisco challenged that ruling to the First District Court of Appeal, which restored noncitizen voting, at least for now. The appeals court granted the city’s request for a stay to set aside the judge’s ruling and leave the ordinance in effect while the case is on appeal. The justices said opponents of the law had not shown they would suffer “irreparable damage in their business or profession” if the law remained in effect during the appeal.

City voters approved the ordinance, the first of its kind in the state, with Proposition N in 2016. The law took effect in 2018, and was extended indefinitely by the Board of Supervisors in 2021.

The lead plaintiff in the case, James V. Lacy, said in a statement Friday that the Court of Appeal’s decision to not expedite its review of the case would likely result in noncitizens casting ballots that “will unconstitutionally dilute the voting power of all citizen voters, including those of ethnic minority groups.”

Noncitizen voter turnout has been low in past elections, possibly due to fears about sharing their identities with the government. Election officials said noncitizen voters accounted for 238 of the 180,000 ballots cast in the February election that recalled three school board members from office.

Attorneys for San Francisco contend the provision in the California Constitution stating that citizens “may vote” does not prevent a local government from allowing noncitizens to vote.

Click here to read the full article at the SF Chronicle

Oakland Sued Over Ballot Measure to Allow Noncitizen Voting

Lawsuit says judge struck down similar San Francisco law

A judge’s recent ruling that a San Francisco law allowing noncitizens to vote in school board elections is unconstitutional threatens a similar plan in Oakland, as well as efforts in other cities like San Jose.

The same organizations and law firm that won their case against San Francisco’s 2016 law sued Oakland officials Aug. 16 to keep their proposed measure off the November ballot.

“Oakland’s noncitizen voting measure should be removed from the ballot because it will be a waste of public resources to spend money … to submit a measure to voters that can never be enacted,” the complaint said. “Allowing a vote on an unconstitutional measure will undermine the integrity of the initiative process.”

Oakland City Attorney Barbara J. Parker said the city has yet to be served with the complaint and could not comment.

Oakland City Councilman Dan Kalb, who is leading the effort to get the measure on the ballot, believes it is legally sound because it would not directly extend voting rights to noncitizens, but allow the city to do so if it is not prohibited by state law.

“There’s no legal basis for their lawsuit,” Kalb said.

In January, the San Jose City Council voted to study the possibility of letting noncitizens vote in municipal elections, but they weren’t pressing to get a measure on the November 8 ballot.

San Francisco voters extended voting rights to noncitizens – both legal and unauthorized residents – to cast ballots in school board elections in 2016, and the Board of Supervisors extended the law indefinitely in 2021.

The conservative nonprofits United States Justice Foundation, based in Phoenix, and the California Public Policy Foundation in Laguna Niguel filed suit, arguing the provision was unconstitutional.

In a July 29 ruling, San Francisco Superior Court Judge Richard B. Ulmer, Jr. agreed, citing the California Constitution stating that only “A United States citizen 18 years of age and resident in this state may vote.” Ulmer also noted that several sections of the Elections Code say voters must be U.S. citizens.

Ulmer rejected the city’s argument that the state constitution’s “may vote” language isn’t restrictive.

“By the same logic, children under 18 and residents of other states ‘may also’ vote in California elections, which our constitution does not allow,” Ulmer wrote, adding that had the constitution said “shall vote,” it would have made voting mandatory in the state.

Ulmer’s ruling came just days after the New York Supreme Court justice struck down a New York City law passed in November that would have let 800,000 noncitizens who are permanent legal residents or authorized to work vote in municipal elections, citing similar barriers in the state constitution.

On Aug. 12, Ulmer also rejected San Francisco’s request to stay his ruling while the city appeals, saying he disagreed with the city’s contention that the case presented “difficult questions of law.”

“This is not a difficult or close question,” Ulmer wrote.

The Oakland lawsuit argues that the city’s voters have “a constitutional right in avoiding the vote dilution that flows from extending voting privileges to those not authorized to vote in the state.”

James V. Lacy, the lawyer representing the organizations that sued over the measure, argued it would benefit Asians, Hispanics and Whites who have larger shares of noncitizens among them at the expense of Oakland’s nearly one in four Black residents. But Kalb said the city is home to a large number of noncitizen African immigrants as well.

There is a history of noncitizen voting in the United States. New York allowed it for school elections until 2000. Advocates for the Oakland measure said noncitizens could vote in the United States until 1926. Sin Yen, spokeswoman for Chinese for Affirmative Action, which led the coalition that campaigned for San Francisco’s law, said noncitizen voting efforts are also afoot in Santa Ana, New York, Boston and Chicago.

Advocates argue that immigrant parents of kids in city schools shouldn’t be denied a voice in their governance just because they aren’t citizens. Oakland estimates that 13,000 of 230,000 voting-age residents are noncitizens of various ethnic backgrounds, including Hispanic, African and Asian.

“If you’re a parent or legal guardian of children under 18, you should be able to decide who runs the schools,” Kalb said. “It seems so obvious, like such a no-brainer. It’s sad there are some people who don’t want that to happen.”

Critics say they’re not anti-immigrant but that extending the vote to noncitizens unfairly benefits foreigners at the expense of the country’s own citizens.

“The purpose of our lawsuit is not to denigrate noncitizen rights in the state – noncitizens have all kinds of rights,” Lacy said. “But the idea of voting is something completely different. If you talk to a general person in the state about what is the qualification for voting, the general feeling is, well, you have to be a citizen.”

Click here to read that the full article at the Mercury News

Oakland Now Also Sued On Noncitizen Voting Measure

Judge overturned San Francisco law allowing noncitizens to vote in July

In July, San Francisco Superior Court Judge Richard Ulmer overturned a San Francisco law allowing noncitizen parents to vote in local school board elections in Lacy et. al. The judge said the California Constitution permits only citizens to vote,” the San Francisco Chronicle reported.

The Globe spoke with Attorney James Lacy who said the local law violates the California Constitution and Elections Code.

Lacy has just filed a second lawsuit in Superior Court in Alameda County against the City of Oakland and the County Registrar of Voters seeking a Court Order to remove from the November ballot a measure that if approved, would allow for the counting of noncitizen votes in Oakland school board elections.

“The City of Oakland proposes a ballot measure that would allow noncitizens to vote in elections for the Oakland Unified School District (OUSD). This measure is plainly unconstitutional because it violates a constitutional mandate allowing only United States citizens to vote in California elections. This requirement applies to every election in the state, even those conducted by charter cities,” the lawsuit alleges.”

“Oakland’s noncitizen voting measure should be removed from the ballot because it will be a waste of public resources to spend money to consider to submit a measure to voters that can never be enacted, and allowing a vote on an unconstitutional measure will undermine the integrity of the initiative process.”

Lacy said the lawsuit is necessary because “Oakland’s ballot measure violates the fundamental rule that in an election, only citizens vote, and if noncitizens are allowed to vote, the voting rights of all citizens are unconstitutionally deprived, diluted and devalued.” Other plaintiffs in the case include two nonprofit organizations of which Lacy is an officer: the California Public Policy Foundation and the United States Justice Foundation; and Oakland voter Jim Eyer.”

The Oakland lawsuit explains “These interests extend to everyone in the state because integrity of elections is a matter of statewide concern. Additionally, school districts are funded with the taxes paid by each of the state’s taxpayers into the state’s general fund. When OUSD 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 OUSD. From that interest, everyone in the state also has an interest in ensuring that OUSD’s governing board is elected in accordance with state law.”

The California Constitution establishes who may vote in the state:

“A United States citizen 18 years of age and resident in this State may vote.” The plain language of this provision does not allow the Legislature, any charter city, or any other body to establish voting rights for anyone who is not a United States citizen, 18 years of age, or resident of the state.

Pew reports that this part of a trend across the country that is drawing legal challenges. Supporters claim that because non-citizens pay local taxes they should be able to vote in local elections, arguing they deserve a say in who represents them. However, Pew acknowledges “no state explicitly allows noncitizens to vote in statewide elections such as for governor—nor have there been serious proposals to legalize statewide voting by noncitizens.”

In the San Francisco case, 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.

It also appears that this issue is divided along party ideology, with Democrats introducing most if not all city proposals seeking to allow non-citizens to vote.

“When California and Illinois implemented laws in recent years that automatically register people to vote when they visit departments of motor vehicles, hundreds of noncitizens were accidentally registered to vote due to technical glitches,” Pew reported.

Click here to read the full article at the California Globe

S.F’s Noncitizen Voting Law for School Board Was Struck Down. What’s Next?

Noncitizen voting isn’t a brand new idea. White, landowning, noncitizen men were once allowed to vote in 22 states.

Today, a handful of cities have granted noncitizen residents the right to vote in various local elections. Until recently, San Francisco was one of them: in 2016, voters approved Proposition N, which granted the vote to noncitizen parents of SF Unified students in school board races. 

But late last month, a state Superior Court judge struck down San Francisco’s law in a suit brought forward by conservative groups. The city has appealed the decision, and what happens next will have ripple effects across the Bay Area and the rest of the state.

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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

Judge Appears Wary of San Francisco Law That Lets Noncitizens Vote in School Board Elections

San Francisco’s law allowing some noncitizens to vote in school board elections was challenged in court Thursday by conservative groups, who argued that California authorizes only U.S. citizens to vote. A judge seemed inclined to agree.

The ordinance, approved by city voters as Proposition N in 2016, took effect in 2018 and was extended indefinitely by San Francisco supervisors in 2021. It allows voting by noncitizens, including undocumented immigrants as well as legal residents, if they are a parent of a school-age child and are not in prison or parole for a felony conviction.

Similar laws are in effect in several cities in other states, but none elsewhere in California.

A lawsuit by the United States Justice Foundation and the California Public Policy Foundation contends the local law conflicts with the state Constitution’s provision on voting, which declares, in full: “A United States citizen 18 years of age and resident in this State may vote.”

In other words, Superior Court Judge Richard Ulmer said at Thursday’s hearing, “the California Constitution says you’ve got to be a United States citizen to vote. … How do you overcome that?” he asked Deputy City Attorney James Emery.

By concluding that the word “may” doesn’t necessarily exclude others, Emery replied.

To say that a citizen may vote “means you can’t take it away,” the city’s lawyer said. “To add a category of people entitled to vote … does not conflict” with the constitutional language.

What’s more, he said, state law allows charter cities like San Francisco to govern their own municipal affairs, such as local elections. And the state “has an interest in protecting every single person’s right to vote,” Emery said.

“If that person is entitled to vote,” Ulmer said. “Doesn’t the state law tell us … that it’s a statewide concern?”

Sounding the same theme, attorney Chad Morgan, representing the groups that challenged the law, said the state’s “interest,” or legal concern, is to guarantee that “voting is a right of citizenship.”

“The state has no interest in discriminating against immigrants,” countered Emery.

Ulmer did not issue a ruling at the end of the one-hour hearing.

Prop. N, approved by 54% of the voters in 2016, has not led to a large turnout of noncitizen voters. Immigrant groups say many noncitizens fear taking actions that might come to the attention of federal agents.

“It’s a growing program,” Emery told Ulmer, who had noted the small participation. “People have to know there will be no immigration consequences.”

Morgan also argued that public schools in California are actually “little state agencies” that are subject to state regulation rather than local control. School buildings are state property, he said, and the highest educational authority is the state superintendent of public instruction.

Click here to read the full article in the SF Chronicle