HomeAsian AmericansAppeal court to decide if non-citizens can vote for SF school board

Appeal court to decide if non-citizens can vote for SF school board

By Nigel Whan, AsAmNews Intern

Today, the First District Court of Appeal in California heard oral arguments in a case that could determine whether non-citizens can vote in school board elections.

Ah Fen, a naturalized immigrant from Guangzhou gave a speech outside the courthouse in which she explained that “Increasing voting rights improves the civil rights movement in the community, makes the community more diverse, and better serves people from different backgrounds. Hopefully, San Francisco will continue to support immigrant communities.”

In 2016, San Francisco approved noncitizens, including both undocumented immigrants and legal residents, to vote for school board candidates if they are a parent or guardian of a school-age child, and are not in prison or on parole for a felony.

The lawsuit is being heard on appeal from the San Francisco Superior Court, which decided against the legality of noncitizen voting in 2022. The suit was filed in 2021 by the United States Justice Foundation and its president, James V. Lacy, alongside other plaintiffs. The Oakland Unified School District

The case, Lacy v. City and County of San Francisco, depends on the interpretation of California’s constitution, which does not explicitly forbid noncitizen voting in local elections. While Lacy’s attorney Chad Morgan argued that the state constitution implicitly forbids noncitizen voting, the city’s attorney took the opposite view.

Morgan also claimed that a city permitting noncitizen voting is exceeding the authority delegated to them telling the court the city could not “go so far as to redefine the electorate.”

San Francisco’s Deputy City Attorney Wayne Snodgrass opposed that interpretation, arguing that the city’s authority is broad enough to allow changes like noncitizen voting. Secondly, he emphasized the “entirely local” character of school board elections, and that noncitizen parents have a very immediate interest in the result of school board elections.

He further asserted that any claim that noncitizen voting reduces the ability of citizens to make their voices heard is countered by the fact the vote that permitted noncitizen voting was decided by a vote of only citizens.

A coalition of community groups rallies in support of non-citizens voting in school board elections
Photo by Grace Lie Courtesy: Chinese for Affirmative Action

Outside the courthouse, groups including the Immigrant Parent Voting Collaborative, the advocacy group Chinese for Affirmative Action and La Raza Community Resource Center held a pre-hearing action in support of noncitizen voting.

“As an immigrant myself, I understand the difficulties immigrant families face and want to help them integrate smoothly into the community,” said Fen. “However, recently, a certain group has exploited the rights of immigrants.”

In contrast, the complaint submitted to the court by Lacy and the USJF asserts that the vote of plaintiff Michael Denny, a resident of San Francisco, “is subject to dilution by noncitizen voters, and he is otherwise impacted by being subject to the authority of a school board whose members are unlawfully elected by noncitizen voters,” and that he “pays taxes that will be unlawfully used to allow for unlawful voting by noncitizens in the City”

Further, Lacy’s attorney alleged that the reasoning employed to justify the expansion of the franchise to noncitizens “would apply broadly to any future expansion of the franchise, whether it’s an extreme example of 12-year-olds in Texas, or a more plausible example of expanding it to property owners.”

According to CAA, cities in California, Illinois, New York, Maryland, Massachusetts, and Vermont have pushed to allow non-citizens to vote in local elections. Other cities outside San Francisco considering to do so in California are Oakland, Richmond, San Jose, Los Angeles, Pasadena, and Santa Ana.

AsAmNews is published by the non-profit, Asian American Media Inc. Follow us on FacebookX, InstagramTikTok and YouTube. Please consider making a tax-deductible donation to support our efforts to produce diverse content about the AAPI communities. We are supported in part by funding provided by the State of California, administered by the California State Library in partnership with the California Department of Social Services and the California Commission on Asian and Pacific Islander American Affairs as part of the Stop the Hate program. To report a hate incident or hate crime and get support, go to CA vs Hate.


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