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