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DC council advances bill that would permit resident noncitizens to vote in local elections: 'They ... deserve a right to have a say in their government'

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The Washington, D.C., council has just advanced a bill that would permit all resident noncitizens to vote in local elections.

On Tuesday, the so-called "Local Resident Voting Rights Act of 2021" passed with a 12-1 vote. The bill would alter the language of the D.C. official code so that anyone who is "a citizen of the United States or, for the purposes of a local 38 election, is a permanent resident of the United States" (emphasis added) may participate in elections to determine district mayor, chairman or member of the city council, attorney general, members of the state board of education, advisory neighborhood commissioner, and any "initiative, referendum, recall, or charter referendum on a District ballot."

Though a handful of D.C. suburbs, including Hyattsville, Maryland, already have similar laws in place, this bill marks the first time that a proposal to allow noncitizens to vote has advanced to the full council.

Many councilmembers cheered the outcome.

"Our immigrant neighbors of all statuses participate, contribute and care about our community in our city. They, like all D.C. residents, deserve a right to have a say in their government," said D.C. Councilmember Charles Allen, who introduced the bill at the legislative session on Tuesday.

Councilmember Brianne Nadeau, who introduced the bill last summer, remarked at the time that people "who have made their permanent homes here should have a hand in who represents them in government. The District of Columbia has long been a place that has welcomed immigrants into our community, and it’s time to allow for their full participation in our institutions."

Despite the enthusiasm expressed by councilmembers, there is still some controversy about whether the bill might actually permit illegal immigrants to participate in local elections as well. A Committee Report filed on September 28 states that "the Committee Print expands the bill’s provisions to include all non-citizen residents, and it does not distinguish between arbitrary immigration statuses."

It also adds that all immigrants, "whether naturalized citizens, permanent residents, asylum seekers, DACA recipients, undocumented residents, or otherwise, all contribute to the District and are essential to the fabric of our community."

The lone dissenting voice in the council vote, Councilmember Mary Cheh, likewise expressed concern that the bill would grant the right to vote to immigrants who were recently bused into the district from Texas and who otherwise satisfy the age and 30-day residency requirements. Cheh believes that the residency requirement should be extended to longer than 30 days.

This vote came after just the first reading. The bill must go through a second reading before it is presented to Mayor Muriel Bowser for approval. Even if Bowser signs it, however, the bill would then face congressional approval, which is by no means certain. Perhaps in anticipation of this bill, Rep. Rodney Davis (R-Ill.) introduced a bill back in August that would prohibit illegal noncitizens from voting in D.C. elections.

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