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

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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. Lacy did not immediately respond to a request for comment.

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

City Attorney David Chiu speaks during Asian Justice Rally, a national rally on the anniversary of the fatal attack on an 84-year-old Thai grandfather Vicha Ratanapakdee, commemorating Ratanapakdee and the victims of anti-Asian violence and racism, on Sunday, Jan. 30, 2022 in San Francisco’s Anza Vista neighborhood. | Ekevara Kitpowsong

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.

Chinese for Affirmative Action—a group that advocates for multiracial democracy—told The Standard the 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 she exercised her right to vote for the first time in 2018, which brought her to tears. 

“For the first time in my life, I felt like I was a full member of the school community whose voice matters,” Shin said in the Chinese for Affirmative Action statement.

Shin and other parents who work with Chinese for Affirmative Action say they intend to re-register to vote and remain actively involved in their school district. 

Yanling Deng, an SFUSD parent of a 2 ½-year-old daughter, said it’s particularly important for her family because she feels the district hasn’t always listened enough to low-income families with limited English proficiency.

“I voted in the school board recall election because I wanted to advocate for immigrant children and families,” Deng said, “especially Asian immigrant parents.”

The city attorney, in his court filing, said just about a third of San Francisco public school students have a parent who is a disenfranchised immigrant. The right of non-citizens to vote, he added, “enhances the education of all students, not just the children of immigrants.” 

The post San Francisco Defends Right of Non-Citizens to Vote in School Board Elections appeared first on The Paloalto Digest.

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