San Francisco Defends Right of Non-Citizens to Vote in School Board Elections

San Francisco is defending the right of non-citizens to vote in school board elections.

In a brief filed Friday, the City Attorney’s Office swung back at a legal challenge by a Republican operative that aims to revoke the right of non-citizens to vote in San Francisco Unified School District elections. 

The motion comes in response to a lawsuit filed three-and-a-half months ago in San Francisco Superior Court by James V. Lacy—an Orange County lawyer, right-wing pundit and author of conservative books such as Taxifornia—alleging that non-citizen voting is unlawful and should be banned.

Fellow plaintiff Michael Denny, a San Francisco resident, said non-citizens participating in local elections unlawfully dilutes the votes of citizens.

In his response Friday, City Attorney David Chiu countered that while California’s constitution guarantees voting rights to citizens over the age of 18, it does not prohibit cities from extending the electorate to additional residents in local elections. 

Even if the court found a conflict between the city’s charter and state law, Chiu argued that San Francisco’s “home rule authority” would prevail.

Chiu noted in his filing that non-citizens were allowed to vote for the first 150 years of United States history.  

“While women and racial minorities who were citizens were deprived of voting rights, non-citizens who were white male property owners could vote in state and local elections well into the 20th century,” he wrote in the brief. “Non-citizen voting in 40 states and U.S. territories was curtailed only after an influx of Southern and Eastern European immigrants and World War I provoked xenophobia and nativism in this country.”

In 2016, San Francisco voters passed Proposition N, allowing non-citizens—including permanent residents, visas holders, refugees and undocumented immigrants—to cast ballots in school board races. Five years later, in 2021, the city made non-citizen voting in school elections a permanent right for parents or guardians with at least one child under 19 years old.

San Francisco’s response brief to Lacy v. City of San Francisco

Chinese for Affirmative Action—a group that advocates for multiracial democracy—told The Standard the Lacy lawsuit coincides with a national Republican effort to engage in voter suppression and prevent  immigrant voters from having their voices heard.

The nonprofit advocacy group pointed out that more than 500 bills have been introduced since the 2020 elections to effectively disenfranchise people by, among other things, requiring photo identification and purging voter rolls.

If the litigation against San Francisco’s non-citizen voting law succeeds, Chinese for Affirmative Action says it would discourage some immigrant voters from weighing in on issues that affect their children. 

“By extending the right to vote to non-citizens, San Francisco has led the way in expanding access to democracy and promoting immigrant inclusion,” Chinese for Affirmative Action Immigrant Rights Coordinator Olivia Zheng said. “In the face of attacks on voting rights across the country, it is crucial to continue defending the right for immigrants to fully participate in and shape their communities.”

According to the U.S. Census Bureau’s 2019 American Community Survey, 105,000 of San Francisco’s 870,000 residents are non-citizens.

Proponents of non-citizen voting rights say it gives people with roots in their community a chance to have a say in local governance. 

Immigrant parent and San Francisco resident Hwaji Shin said it brought her to tears when she voted for the first time in the U.S. in 2018.

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

More S.F. Voters Supported Recall Of School Board Members Than Elected Them In 2018

More San Franciscans voted to recall three school board members than elected them in 2018, despite a relatively low turnout in the special election last week.

With nearly 175,000 votes counted, and few remaining ballots still outstanding, the tally demonstrated a clear landslide and countered claims that the recall was a Republican-fueled election dominated by white families frustrated with the board’s progressive politics.

The voter turnout as of Friday was at 35%.

More than 131,000 voters ousted board member Alison Collins, who received 122,865 votes in 2018 when she was elected to the job.

Board President Gabriela López received 123,463 recall votes compared with 117,843 in 2018, while Faauuga Moliga received 117,843 recall votes, nearly 10,000 more than the 107,989 who elected him.

The data also shows that a majority of voters in every neighborhood in San Francisco supported the removal of Collins and López, while all but one, North Bernal Heights, voted to oust Moliga.

The recall divided the city for the past year, with a grassroots effort of frustrated parents and community members pushing for the board members’ removal over the slow reopening of schools during the pandemic and the board’s focus on controversial issues such as renaming 44 school sites and ending the merit-based admission system at Lowell High School.

Opponents of the recall said that the election was a waste of time, money and energy that could have been better directed toward students and that commissioners were carrying out a racial justice agenda that many voters back and is meant to address inequity in the schools. They pointed out wealthy investors, including some Republicans, largely bankrolled the recall effort.

Voters specifically targeted Collins over racially offensive tweets she made before her election, saying Asian Americans used “white supremacist thinking to assimilate and ‘get ahead.’”

Amid calls for her resignation from city leaders and community groups, she sued the district and five fellow board members for $87 million after the board stripped her of the vice presidency and her seat on committees. The lawsuit was tossed out of court before the first hearing.

Within the next few weeks, Mayor London Breed is expected to appoint replacements to finish out the commissioners’ terms, which end in early January 2023. To remain in office, the replacements would have to run in the upcoming November election, but might have an edge as incumbents.

“The voters of this city have delivered a clear message that the school board must focus on the essentials of delivering a well-run school system above all else,” Breed said in a statement on election night. “There are many critical decisions in the coming months — addressing a significant budget deficit, hiring a new Superintendent, and navigating our emergence from this pandemic. … The school district has a lot of work to do.”

Collins and López remain in office, and will not officially be removed until 10 days after the Board of Supervisors accepts the results. New board members would probably take seats around March 11. Moliga, however, stepped down Wednesday. His seat will be vacant until Breed appoints a replacement.

Collins and López remained defiant last week, attributing the recall to white supremacy, a backlash against social justice issues and deep-pocketed Republicans.

“So if you fight for racial justice, this is the consequence,” López said Thursday on Twitter. “Don’t be mistaken, white supremacists are enjoying this. And the support of the recall is aligned with this.”

Click here to read the full article at the SF Chronicle