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District of Columbia to Consider Voting Rights Bill for Non-Citizens

A new bill would make D.C. join the handful of municipalities that give legal permanent residents who are not U.S. citizens the right to vote in local elections. So far, more than a quarter of the Council supports the measure.

The City Council in Washington, D.C., will consider a bill to grant voting rights to legal immigrants who are not citizens.

Councilman David Grosso introduced the measure Dec. 3 along with three other councilmembers, Jim Graham, Muriel Bowser and Tommy Wells. It would pertain to several local elections, including those for the D.C. Board of Education, advisory neighborhood commissions, the city's attorney general, the city council, the mayor and any city initiatives or referendums. “Pot holes, community centers, playgrounds, minimum wage, taxes, supercans, snow removal, alley closings, alcohol license moratoriums, red light cameras…these are all important issues that voters in the District of Columbia entrust their leaders with,” Grosso wrote in a blog post. “Not all of our residents have say in choosing the individuals who make these decisions. In my opinion, that is unjust.”

Under the D.C. proposal, a non-citizen could vote if he or she lived in the city for at least 30 days before the most recent election. The person would also have to meet the federal definition of legal permanent resident and would have to be at least 18 years old. The council rejected a similar proposal in 2004.

The council would have all of next year to take action on the bill. Councilman Kenyan McDuffie, who chairs the committee on government operations, has committed to scheduling a hearing on the bill. That hearing would likely occur after the mayoral primary in April 2014, Grosso said, though nothing was scheduled yet. If the council passed the measure, either with the mayor’s support or with a veto-proof majority, it would still require approval from Congress. Grosso said he was optimistic it would survive congressional review, in part because a so-called resolution of disapproval would require passage in both the House and Senate. “I think the Senate would protect our interests,” Grosso said.

At least seven municipalities have granted voting rights in local elections for legal permanent residents who are not citizens, including six in Maryland. Local governments are showing increased interest in granting voting rights to immigrants. A majority of the New York City Council has co-sponsored a non-citizen voting bill, though it has yet to receive a formal vote. Four towns in Massachusetts have passed similar ordinances, though they cannot go into effect without approval from a state legislature that has been reluctant to take up the issue thus far.

J.B. Wogan is a Governing staff writer.
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