In July, San Francisco Superior Court Judge Richard Ulmer overturned a San Francisco law allowing noncitizen parents to vote in local school board elections in Lacy et. al. The judge said the California Constitution permits only citizens to vote,” the San Francisco Chronicle reported.
The Globe spoke with Attorney James Lacy who said the local law violates the California Constitution and Elections Code.
Lacy has just filed a second lawsuit in Superior Court in Alameda County against the City of Oakland and the County Registrar of Voters seeking a Court Order to remove from the November ballot a measure that if approved, would allow for the counting of noncitizen votes in Oakland school board elections.
“The City of Oakland proposes a ballot measure that would allow noncitizens to vote in elections for the Oakland Unified School District (OUSD). This measure is plainly unconstitutional because it violates a constitutional mandate allowing only United States citizens to vote in California elections. This requirement applies to every election in the state, even those conducted by charter cities,” the lawsuit alleges.”
“Oakland’s noncitizen voting measure should be removed from the ballot because it will be a waste of public resources to spend money to consider to submit a measure to voters that can never be enacted, and allowing a vote on an unconstitutional measure will undermine the integrity of the initiative process.”
Lacy said the lawsuit is necessary because “Oakland’s ballot measure violates the fundamental rule that in an election, only citizens vote, and if noncitizens are allowed to vote, the voting rights of all citizens are unconstitutionally deprived, diluted and devalued.” Other plaintiffs in the case include two nonprofit organizations of which Lacy is an officer: the California Public Policy Foundation and the United States Justice Foundation; and Oakland voter Jim Eyer.”
The Oakland lawsuit explains “These interests extend to everyone in the state because integrity of elections is a matter of statewide concern. Additionally, school districts are funded with the taxes paid by each of the state’s taxpayers into the state’s general fund. When OUSD 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 OUSD. From that interest, everyone in the state also has an interest in ensuring that OUSD’s governing board is elected in accordance with state law.”
The California Constitution establishes who may vote in the state:
“A United States citizen 18 years of age and resident in this State may vote.” The plain language of this provision does not allow the Legislature, any charter city, or any other body to establish voting rights for anyone who is not a United States citizen, 18 years of age, or resident of the state.
Pew reports that this part of a trend across the country that is drawing legal challenges. Supporters claim that because non-citizens pay local taxes they should be able to vote in local elections, arguing they deserve a say in who represents them. However, Pew acknowledges “no state explicitly allows noncitizens to vote in statewide elections such as for governor—nor have there been serious proposals to legalize statewide voting by noncitizens.”
In the San Francisco case, 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.
It also appears that this issue is divided along party ideology, with Democrats introducing most if not all city proposals seeking to allow non-citizens to vote.
“When California and Illinois implemented laws in recent years that automatically register people to vote when they visit departments of motor vehicles, hundreds of noncitizens were accidentally registered to vote due to technical glitches,” Pew reported.
The City of Santa Ana, one of the largest cities in Orange County, had been on track to adopt a ballot measure to enable it this November, but the Judge’s decision in Lacy vs. San Francisco was a decisive factor in the City Council “shelving” its plans, Lacy said in a statement. “It would be a legal nightmare for the city,” Councilmember David Peñaloza told LAist. “It would definitely be challenged.”
Lacy said “we sense the momentum now in California is against allowing for noncitizen voting.”
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