The nation’s capital is on track to become the next Democratic-led city to allow noncitizens to vote in municipal elections, an endeavor that local leaders are racing to implement before a potential Republican takeover of Congress.
The D.C. Council sent a bill to Mayor Muriel Bowser this week that would pave the way for illegal immigrants who have lived in the city for at least 30 days to cast ballots in local elections.
Federal law bars noncitizens from voting in national elections, but states and municipalities can extend the right for local and school board races. If the bill becomes law, the District would join San Francisco, 11 cities in Maryland and two cities in Vermont.
A judge blocked New York City’s attempt this year to allow legally documented noncitizens to vote for local officials.
To become law, the D.C. bill needs Ms. Bowser’s signature and a standard 30-day congressional review period. After Ms. Bowser signs the bill, it goes to both chambers of Congress for review. If neither acts within the 30 days, it would become law.
Failure to enact it into law before the next Congress convenes on Jan. 3 would mean roadblocks from a potential Republican majority.
“Washington D.C. just moved to let illegal aliens vote. I’ll be introducing a resolution to block this,” Sen. Tom Cotton, Arkansas Republican, tweeted Wednesday. “Let’s get every Democrat on the record on whether illegal immigrants should vote.”
Some Republicans, including former President Donald Trump, have suggested that large tranches of noncitizens have voted illegally in past elections, but recent studies have found only a few dozen potential cases out of millions of ballots cast.
Ms. Bowser has long supported similar initiatives and introduced a related bill when she was a council member. She has expressed concern recently that the current bill is something the council “moved on without much input.”
Her office did not respond to a request for comment.
“This is something we’ve been fighting for, for many years,” said Arturo Griffiths, a longtime advocate for immigrant voting rights who became a citizen after moving to the U.S. from Panama decades ago. “She proposed it when she came into office. If she’s really for the people of the District of Columbia, if she wants everybody to vote … she has to make sure she signs it.”
If Ms. Bowser signs the bill, it is expected to breeze through the Democratic-controlled Congress without opposition.
The lone council member to oppose the bill was Mary M. Cheh, Ward 3 Democrat, who did not seek reelection.
She cited concerns that those living within the city or country for a short time lacked a “cultural” connection. She noted that the undocumented migrants relocated to D.C. from the southern border by Republican governors could vote for local officials after just 30 days.
“My concern has nothing to do with citizenship. Fine, noncitizens should be able to vote in local elections. Whether you’re documented or undocumented. Fine. You should be treated the same. My concern is also not with strangers per se, who have lived in this country, have some connection on a cultural level, some connection of experience in our community,” she said at a meeting about the legislation this month, according to DCist. “I find it unacceptable to say that somebody who has had no connection at all with the United States, with its culture, its democracy, can be dropped off here, reside for 30 days, and vote in a local election. What is wrong with asking they stay a little bit longer?”
Among those publicly opposed to the move is The Washington Post, whose editorial board published an editorial this week calling it a “radical” move akin to a political power grab that would push the city further to the left. It would also present “logistical nightmares,” cost millions of dollars, invite potential participation by foreign adversaries and arm Republicans with evidence that Democrats support open border policies for political gain, the board wrote.
• Ramsey Touchberry can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.
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