San Francisco became the largest city in the nation to allow noncitizens to vote in local elections, according to the Los Angeles Times.
Noncitizens were only allowed to vote Nov. 6 for a single school board race. That was widely criticized by conservatives. The Times reported that only a little more than 40 noncitizens had registered to vote by Oct. 28.
The change carries symbolic force, according to Louis Desipio, a professor of political science at the University of California at Irvine.
He said, “It will speak to that sort of sense that change is coming to the United States and that change is being done extra-legally somehow.”
The chance to vote as a noncitizen is a result of a measure that passed in San Francisco in 2016.
“Noncitizen voting is a very contentious issue,” said opponent Robin Hvidston, executive director of We the People Rising, a Claremont organization that lobbies for stricter immigration enforcement. “The move to extend voting rights to those illegally residing in San Francisco has the potential to backfire among citizens with a moderate stance on illegal immigration.”
Shamman Walton, a San Francisco Unified School District commissioner, presented a resolution in support of the measure in 2016 and told the Times that he doesn’t buy the rhetoric from the right.
“At the end of the day, for me it’s important that families who have children in our schools… have a say,” Walton said.
There is no record of how many students and parents in the school district are non-citizens. But according to the district’s website, 29 percent of its 54,063 students are English-language learners. Additionally, a 2017 Pew Research report estimated 35,000 people without legal status live in San Francisco.
Joshua A. Douglas, a professor at the University of Kentucky College of Law who specializes in election law and voting rights, said that San Francisco’s expansion of voting rights is part of a greater resurgence to allow noncitizens to vote in more local races.
Douglas said Takoma Park in Maryland has allowed noncitizens to vote in local elections for years. Allowing noncitizen voting has a long history in the United States, according to Douglas. “Noncitizen voting was not considered all that radical until a backlash during post World War I,” he said.