Monday, January 21, 2013

Expanding Voting, and Voting Rights, in Takoma Park

Mayor Bruce Williams has added discussion of two linked initiatives, a voting-rights resolution and Election Day voter registration (EDVR), to the Tuesday, January 22 city-council agenda. I'm excited about these initiatives, which seek to expand participation in city elections and support non-city voting actions, but first --

The agenda also includes a Discussion of Financial Matters and Budget Priorities, a rather dry title for an important question: Should we spend unallocated Fiscal Year 2013 funds (the FY13 runs July 1, 2012 to June 30, 2013), and what initiatives should the city prioritize in developing its FY14 budget? Do read the backgrounder compiled by Acting City Manager Suzanne Ludlow and share your thoughts with me or your non-Ward 1 council rep.

The voting-initiative background material covers both Councilmember Tim Male's draft Right to Vote resolution and my own EDVR proposal, with supporting materials from the League of Women Voters and the Maryland NAACP. The Maryland branches of both organizations are part of a coalition promoting Same Day Voting (essentially the same as EDVR) in Maryland. But the state legislative initiatives -- Delegate Kirill Reznik's HB 17Elective Franchise - Registration and Voting at Polling Places, which would change the Maryland constitution to allow (but not actually create) same-day voting; and Governor Martin O'Malley's proposed expansion of early voting, with same-day registration during early voting -- aren't a slam-dunk and would not clearly apply to city elections even if enacted. The ACLU (Maryland and Montgomery County), Progressive Maryland, and Takoma Park-based FairVote are part of the coalition and endorse Takoma Park EDVR; CASA of Maryland, Common Cause Maryland, and Maryland PIRG are other partners in the state coalition.

The goal of both EDVR and the Right to Vote resolution is to expand often-dismal Takoma Park electoral participation. Voter turn-out in wards with high proportions of renters and minorities is particularly low, which is why I hope we will both enact EDVR and consider another initiative, a modification to Takoma Park landlord-tenant code. The city is currently rewriting that section of city code, to update, clarify, and strengthen it. How about a new provision, to require landlords to provide a city-supplied voter-registration and electoral-information packet to new tenants? We'd have landlords distribute packets for household members who would be eligible to vote by the next even-year general election. Let's get these folks registered to vote, and then let's follow up, via schools, community organizations, and new direct outreach, to keep them informed about city elections!

I'd welcome your support for these initiatives -- contact me, your own non-Ward 1 council rep, or the city clerk (clerk@takomaparkmd.gov), or testify at a council meeting -- and as always, let me know if you have questions or concerns.

Thanks,

Seth, 301-873-8225


P.S. It has been suggested that the city switch back to even years for municipal elections in order to benefit from the turn-out attracted by county, state, and national races. This switch could jeopardize Takoma Park's non-citizen voting, however. A constituent who is an immigration attorney referred me to a 1997 U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services (USCIS) memorandum that addresses "Legal Consequences of Voting by an Alien Prior to Naturalization." It states, "[i]t shall be unlawful for any alien to vote in any election held solely or in part for the purpose of electing a candidate for the office of President, Vice President, Presidential elector, Member of the Senate, Member of the House of Representatives, Delegate from the District of Columbia, or Residential Commissioner" (with some conditions).

Further, U.S. naturalization procedures, via the N-400 form, ask:
10.A.3. Have you ever voted in any Federal, state or local election in the United States?
My attorney-constituent wrote to me, about a Yes answer:
"It's a possible ground for denial of the application as well as removal (deportation). It would at least trigger a request for evidence or investigation. The person would have to present evidence that it's lawful to vote in a Takoma Park election without being a US citizen AND that he or she didn't deliberately misstate his/her status. The second is more difficult because there really wouldn't be any proof besides the person's word, unless she keeps a copy of her voter registration. Hopefully, the person could do this at the interview, but otherwise it would prolong and possibly derail the process -- and if decided against the person, could trigger removal proceedings."

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