The Wash

Once again, D.C. Councilmembers try to expand voting rights for green card holders

Next Election Day might see a huge change for D.C. residents, as council members try to give permanent residents the right to vote in local elections.

The midterm elections are barely over and already the council is debating legislation on who is eligible to vote in upcoming local elections. This could have a great impact D.C. residents. 

The new bill would give the right to vote in local elections to lawful permanent residents, also called green card holders, who live in D.C. Last year, the highest number of green cards delivered in D.C. was to Salvadorans, according to Department of Homeland Security statistics. And Salvadorans represent 23.2% of Ward 1’s population, US Census data shows.

Homeland Security Department data on D.C. residents who received a green card in 2021

The process of getting a green card is complex, and it takes between seven months and 10 years to get it. 

Kush Kharod, one of the organizers of the Local Resident Voting Rights coalition, is the son of Indian parents who are green card holders. 

“Coming from a family of immigrants,” he said, “I know what the struggle is.”

He is fairly confident that Mayor Muriel Bowser will sign the bill and send it to Congress for review. Bowser has until Nov. 21 to sign.

Kharod said Bowser already supported a similar bill in 2013 when she was a Ward 4 council member. The same bill was introduced in 2014, 2015, 2017, and 2019

This year, Ward 1 Councilmember Brianne Nadeau sponsored the bill, with the help of six other council members. On Oct. 18, 12 council members voted in favor of the bill, with Vincent Gray absent. It was officially transmitted to Bowser Nov. 4. 

“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,” Nadeau said in a press release

During an August 2022 hearing before the council’s Committee on the Judiciary and Public Safety, Jose Barrios, the president of the D.C. Latino Caucus, supported this bill.

“If permanent residents are an essential part of our cultural fabric, if they support our economy as workers and entrepreneurs, if they pay large amounts of taxes, if their kids are in our schools, if they enjoy our parks and local events if they can contribute to their preferred political candidates, and perhaps most importantly if they can die in service to our country, then they also deserve to be able to vote in local elections that matter to them,” Barrios told the committee.

A Columbia Heights polling center on Election Day

Lance Swinton, a teacher at Columbia Heights Educational Campus, echoed this when The Wash interviewed him at a vote center on Election Day 2022. “I feel like if they occupy the space, they should be able to have a say in who makes changes,” Swinton said. 

The drive to let permanent residents vote isn’t unique to D.C. To date, 15 municipalities have extended this right, 11 of them in Maryland, as early as in 1992 in Takoma Park, MD. 

But when voters went to cast their ballot for the midterms this past Tuesday, reactions were mixed. 

“They shouldn’t vote,” Winston Brown said. “They are not citizens. You got to be a citizen of the United States in order to vote in the United States. You come here, you work, and you got to live, but you shouldn’t vote here.” 

Voter Natalie Boyd agreed. “They should wait until they are citizens. They would get the benefits before being a citizen,” Boyd said.

But Lizzy B. disagreed, saying, “If you are here legally, if you are not American but you live in this area, then local elections certainly you should have an influence.” She declined to offer her last name.

If Bowser agrees to the bill, it will have to be reviewed in Congress. Congress will have 30 days to review the bill. They can decide to overturn the council’s decision. 

Some states are banning an extension of a franchise like this, such as in Ohio. Last week, 77% of the voters cast a ballot in favor of “Issue 2,” which would prohibit noncitizens to vote.

Solène Guarinos

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