In 2016, San Francisco voters approved a charter amendment allowing certain noncitizens to vote in school board elections. The Charter amendment also gave the County Board of Supervisors authority to extend the noncitizen voting authorization beyond 2022. On November 2, 2021, the San Francisco Board of Supervisors extended indefinitely the ordinance allowing noncitizens to vote beyond 2022.
In March 2022, California attorney James Lacy filed a lawsuit against the city and county of San Francisco over this law arguing that San Francisco residents have a clear interest in ensuring their school board elections follow state law, especially because state taxpayers partially fund school districts.
“The State of California has a long-standing requirement that voters must be United States citizens,” the lawsuit by James V. Lacy; Michael Denny; United States Justice Foundation; and California Public Policy Foundation opens with. “This requirement applies to every election in the state, even those conducted by charter cities, because determining voter qualifications is a matter of statewide concern where state law supersedes conflicting charter city ordinances. Therefore, the San Francisco ordinance authorizing noncitizen voting in elections for the San Francisco Unified School District (SFUSD) is unlawful and may not be implemented.”
San Francisco Superior Court Judge Richard Ulmer just ruled in favor of Lacy et. al. “A San Francisco law allowing noncitizen parents to vote in local school board elections was overturned Friday by a judge who said the California Constitution permits only citizens to vote,” the San Francisco Chronicle reported.
The Globe spoke with Lacy just before the hearing about the unconstitutionality of the law. He said the local law violates the California Constitution and Elections Code.
Lacy also noted that New York City’s identical law was recently struck down by a judge, which would have allowed 800,000 non-citizens to vote, setting an important precedent.
The judge said allowing non-citizens to vote “is contrary to the California Constitution and state statutes and cannot stand.”
The judge told a lawyer for the city that the power of charter cities such as San Francisco to regulate municipal affairs “does not override the Constitution,” the Chronicle reported.
“A permanent injunction has been issued to stop San Francisco from processing noncitizen voting and the Court has invited Lacy and the plaintiffs to file a motion to claim attorneys fees against the City for the action.”
“When noncitizens vote in an election, the voting rights of citizens are wrongly diluted,” Lacy said.
The lawsuit said school districts are funded with the taxes paid by each of the state’s taxpayers into the state’s general fund. When SFUSD spends taxpayer funds, it is not spending local taxpayer funds; it is spending state taxpayer funds. In this regard, everyone in the state has an interest in SFUSD’s expenditures. From that interest, everyone in the state also has an interest in ensuring that SFUSD’s governing board is elected in accordance with state law.
Lacy’s lawsuit said “While section 5 of article XI of the State Constitution gives charter cities power over their own municipal affairs, this section does not authorize Ordinance Number 206-21 because voter qualifications for school board elections are not municipal affairs.”
The lawsuit also addressed Defendant John Arntz, San Francisco’s elections official, and said Plaintiffs believe “that Arntz intends to violate state law by allowing noncitizens to vote in the next election for SFUSD’s governing board. This will be a breach of his duties as contemplated by Elections Code section 13314.”
“In this capacity, Arntz has a duty to comply with the Elections Code and State Constitution when conducting elections in San Francisco.”