Wells & Council Move Voting Rights Bill for Noncitizens

December 3, 2013

Today, Councilmember Tommy Wells joined Councilmembers David Grosso, Jim Graham, and Muriel Bowser to move a bill providing voting rights to non-US citizens, District residents. The "Local Resident Voting Rights Act of 2013" amends the District of Columbia Election Code to include in local elections anyone over 18 who has resided in the District for 30 days or more, and is not a citizen of the United States but a permanent resident of the United States under federal law.

"DC residents know all too well what it means to be denied equal voting rights in the United States," said Councilmember Tommy Wells.  "It goes without question that every resident of DC deserves a vote and a voice in our local government.  DC needs to be a great place for everyone to live, work and raise a family. No one should be denied these basic rights."

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.

Currently, there are seven jurisdictions where noncitizens can vote in local elections in the U.S.:

  1. Chicago in school board elections (1988).
  2. Six towns in Maryland: Takoma Park (1992), Barnesville, Martin's Additions, Somerset, Garrett Park, and Chevy Chase Section 3. The majority of these towns, all in Montgomery County, have allowed noncitizen voting in local elections for at least twenty years or longer.
  3. New York City in school board elections (1969).

The following jurisdictions have proposals actively pending:

  1. New York City (They have not had a school board since mayoral control in 2002, so effectively there has been no noncitizen voting since then. This proposal would allow noncitizens to vote in all municipal elections.)
  2. Four towns in Massachusetts: Cambridge, Amherst, Newton, and Brookline. These towns need state enabling legislation to implement their local laws.

Legislation to allow noncitizens to vote in municipal elections would likely increase the voting population in DC's Wards 1, 2, 3, and 4 where over 18 percent of the Ward population is foreign born. The greatest impact would be in Wards 1 and 4.