If Proposition D passes on the November ballot, the noncitizen parents or guardians of children in The San Francisco Unified School District (SFUSD) may soon be allowed to vote in school board elections. Led by Board of Supervisors President David Chiu, Proposition D is also supported by nine of the 11 city supervisors, as well as the Democratic Party and the League of Young Voters. Other proponents include the Immigrants Rights Commission Chair Angus McCarthy, the United Educators of SF, Coleman Advocates for Youth and Mark Leno, Tom Amiano and Bevan Duffy. In addition, all seven members of the San Francisco School Board agree with the measure.
The sole paid “No on D” arguments come from San Francisco Republican Party (SFRP) 12th District Member Terrence Faulkner, the SFRP and the San Francisco Young Republicans (SFYR).
Supervisor Chiu explained how Proposition D would be implemented. “Citizens register through the City and County of San Francisco to vote in any Election, and once registered are not required to provide any proof of identification to vote. If Prop D passes, the Board of Supervisors would pass subsequent enabling legislation for specific voting procedures. This legislation would create a process by which parents will be informed of their right to vote and asked to sign an affidavit affirming they are parents of children in the school district, over 18 and not a felon, and able to vote. No additional identification would be required, just as it is not required for citizens filling out voter registration cards. The voting will most likely be done via absentee ballots in order to avoid same day polling with two separate voter lists and two separate ballots.”
Noncitizen voting is not new in this country. During the 19th century, at least 22 states and territories granted these individuals the right to vote. Part of this was due to a drive to attract new settlers. By the 1920’s, there was a reverse in this policy based on a growing anti-immigrant sentiment following World War I. In recent years there has been a rising effort among mostly progressive lawmakers and immigrant rights groups to allow noncitizens to vote. Often they try to gain the vote in local or school board elections as a bridge to a wider expansion of noncitizen voting rights.
School Board voting by noncitizens has occurred in Chicago and New York City and local voting is permitted in six municipalities in Maryland. At least a dozen other jurisdictions have considered or are moving to allow noncitizens to vote. Globally, over 20 countries permit voting by noncitizens.
In 1996, San Francisco attempted to extend voting rights to noncitizens in local elections. A state judge ruled that this wouldn’t work because voting rights changes needed to go through a state constitutional amendment. Supporters of this noncitizen voting rights decided to circumvent this obstacle by limiting these rights to school board elections. In 2004 Proposition F would have allowed noncitizens to vote in the local school board; this measure narrowly failed.
The supporters of Proposition D note that one out of three children in the SFUSD has an immigrant parent. Often these parents do not have a voice in their children’s education, and there is a long correlation between parental participation and student success, as well as school improvements.
As an opponent to the measure, Terrence Faulkner echoes the sentiments of the SFRP, who have declared on their website that “Permitting noncitizens to vote undermines the value of citizenship.” Faulkner adds that the U.S. does not have treaties in other countries that allow reciprocal voting where U.S. citizens reside. Alisa Farenzena of the SFYR states that noncitizen voting “is a violation of state law, so city funds would be wasted to defend this indefensible legislation against the inevitable legal challenges.”
The proponents of D insist that immigrant voting in school board elections is completely legal and that voting can encourage citizenship.
Ronald Hayduk, who teaches political science at Borough of Manhattan Community College, has addressed the arguments against noncitizen voting in an article for New Political Science Magazine. He claims that insisting that noncitizens gain citizenship in order to vote is unrealistic. The naturalization process is complicated and can take many years. In the mean time, immigrants pay taxes, run businesses, and even serve in the military. He notes that in the current Iraq war, the first soldier killed was a Guatemalan immigrant and noncitizen.
Historically, opponents to noncitizen voting have stated that noncitizens don’t need to take the pledge of allegiance to the U.S. and many immigrants lack sufficient knowledge of political issues. Hayduk argues that U.S. citizens don’t have to swear allegiance to the U.S. constitution to vote, and many U.S. citizens fail to pass even basic tests on political knowledge. Hayduk also believes that through foreign TV, radio and newspapers, many immigrants keep up with politics both here and abroad. He adds that a “lack of knowledge” was an argument used for many years to prevent blacks and women from voting, and that the vote has been a vital tool for every disempowered group to attain economic, social and civil rights.
With city-wide budget constraints, many voters may voice concerns about the cost of Proposition D. David Chiu has suggested the use of absentee ballots in school board elections, which according to the City Controller would annually cost about $106,000. Chiu states, “Given the annual $6.5 billion budget for the City and County of San Francisco, a $10 million annual budget of the SF Elections Department, and typical per election costs of $3 million per election, this is a very small price to provide a voice to the estimated 30,000 parents, legal guardians and caretakers that currently do not have an opportunity to elect our school board.”