Thomas Elias: Non-citizen voting push begins to spread in California
It was only a matter of time before the idea of allowing non-citizens to vote in some local elections spread from San Francisco to other locales just as sympathetic to immigrants, legal or not.
So it was no surprise when the Los Angeles Unified School District the other day began discussing whether to grant voting rights in school board elections to all parents and legal guardians of the more than 730,000 pupils in the nation’s second largest district.
Neither San Francisco nor Los Angeles officials appear fazed by President Trump’s years of griping — without any proof — that undocumented immigrants regularly vote in American elections, often in big enough numbers to change the outcomes.
He has claimed since 2016 that his 3.1 million-vote national deficit came entirely from droves of illegals casting ballots.
But the commission he appointed to verify this rationalization found hardly any, and he disbanded it in early 2018.
Still, all Trump had to do last year was look at San Francisco if he really wanted to see non-citizens at the polls. Not many, but some.
It was possible for more than 1,000 (no one knows the exact number, but that’s a frequent estimate) illegal immigrant parents to register and vote in last year’s school board election there. But only 42 actually registered and even fewer voted.
This happened because federal law allows noncitizens to vote in state or local elections, even though no state election had seen noncitizens vote legally since Arkansas became the last state to ban the practice in 1926. Before then, many states, cities and counties allowed noncitizens to vote in all elections except federal ones. The thinking was that if you live here, you have a stake in public affairs. Voting was tied to where people lived, not birthplace or nationality.
Anti-immigrant feeling almost completely ended that practice, and it remained extremely uncommon until San Francisco voters okayed it via the local 2016 Proposition N. Chicago and several small cities in Maryland also allow noncitizens to vote in school board elections.
For the practice to begin in Los Angeles, voters there would also have to pass a ballot measure — and they might. That city was one of the earliest to declare itself a sanctuary for undocumented immigrants. Local authorities still refuse to assist federal immigration agents in apprehending all but the most violent illegal immigrant criminals.
For sure, Los Angeles voters could be certain that far more noncitizens would register in their district than San Francisco’s. One reason: The Los Angeles district is 15 times larger than its northerly counterpart.
In Los Angeles, home to an estimated 3.5 million undocumented immigrants, any measure allowing noncitizen voting would also have to be approved by the city council. That’s not likely to be much of an obstacle, as the council is among the most liberal in America.
One positive motive behind this move seems simple: By involving more parents in decisions about their schools, officials hope to improve student outcomes, something urgently needed in the academically underperforming district.
Said Los Angeles school board member Kelly Gomez, who encountered many immigrant parents during her 2017 campaign, “Many of them were very interested and passionate about the issues … but didn’t have the ability to decide for themselves who would represent them on the school board.”
Still, the district would have to solve one big problem before it could expect large-scale noncitizen participation in future elections: How to keep the identities of noncitizens who register to vote away from federal immigrant agents.
That problem plagued San Francisco last year, because voting rolls are public. The fact they could be identified as undocumented and perhaps deported was one big reason noncitizens registered in tiny numbers when they got the chance.
That’s one problem the Los Angeles district will have to solve if it really wants to open things up for noncitizens.
But officials there and elsewhere ought to think hard before they proceed with this, because it would remove one more distinction between citizens and noncitizens, just five years after illegal immigrants became eligible for California drivers licenses. Removing such distinctions diminishes incentive to work toward citizenship, and citizenship is a necessity for immigrants wanting to advance in society.
Email Thomas Elias at firstname.lastname@example.org. His book, “The Burzynski Breakthrough: The Most Promising Cancer Treatment and the Government’s Campaign to Squelch It,” is now available in a soft cover fourth edition. For more Elias columns, visit http://www.californiafocus.net.
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