Debate continues as SJ explores allowing non-citizens to vote in local elections

Amanda del Castillo Image
Wednesday, August 24, 2022
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San Jose residents are encouraging city leaders to extend voting eligibility in local elections to all residents, regardless of immigration status.

SAN JOSE, Calif. (KGO) -- For nearly 3.5 hours on Tuesday, San Jose residents and city leaders discussed and debated over whether non-citizens should be allowed to vote in local elections.

"Sí, se puede! Sí, se puede," a group of supporters chanted outside City Hall.

A few dozen people, using their voices and demanding an opportunity to vote.

A coalition of immigrant advocate groups rallied ahead of Tuesday's city council study session. It presented them with an effort to encourage leaders to extend voting eligibility in local elections to all residents, regardless of immigration status.

"We're looking to get out of it is just inclusion," Arturo Muñoz with SOMOS Mayfair said.

He explained the move would present a vital opportunity for an estimated 200,000 residents who currently cannot vote. Adding, it would be a way for non-citizens who contribute to the economy, pay taxes, and ultimately help shape the city to finally have a say.

RELATED: Non-citizen voting rights gain traction as immigrants vote in SF Unified school board recall

"It's gonna be a long fight. We definitely see that there's gonna be a lengthy strategic campaign," Muñoz said. "So we want to make sure that throughout the process, we continue to include our community."

Longtime resident Yolanda Chavez said her family would greatly benefit from any voting expansion.

Through a translator, she said her hope is that those able to vote in the upcoming November election, elect leaders who want to move the campaign forward.

However, critics Tuesday pointed to the California Constitution. Specifically referencing Sec. 2 which reads, "(a) A United States citizen 18 years of age and resident in this State may vote."

One caller stated, "First of all, it's unconstitutional to allow non-citizens to vote."

Another claimed, "That's going to dilute our votes for the citizens who are already completely committed to this country as Americans."

RELATED: New York City's noncitizen voting law struck down

No vote or action was planned for Tuesday's study session. The meeting was specifically meant to get a better understanding of the issue.

The session stirred up plenty of questions, with many pointing to the set of formal presentations being in favor of the change.

Toward the end of the study session, Mayor Sam Liccardo announced, "We really should be waiting until there's a court somewhere that says this is constitutional."

Councilmembers Magdalena Carrasco and Sylvia Arenas first introduced the proposal in January 2022. The hope was to get the measure on the November ballot this year. However, due to delays, city council did not approve a measure by August 12.

As it stands, federal law states that it is unlawful for a non-citizen to vote in federal elections. However, it doesn't address citizenship and voting in state or local elections.

If this issue moves forward, any final decision would be up to San Jose voters. The soonest that could happen is in 2024.

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