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East Bay City to consider allowing unregistered residents to vote in local elections

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The City of Richmond is moving forward to explore whether it can allow unregistered residents to vote in local elections, such as school board contests.

Person standing in fore of a store: A voter arrives to cast their vote at the Svenshab Community Center on Treasure Island on November 3.  Richmond city council voted Tuesday to consider allowing illegal immigrants to vote in local elections.

© Carlos Avila Gonzalez / The Chronicle

A voter arrives to cast his ballot at the Sheepshabe community center on Treasure Island on November 3. Richmond city council voted Tuesday to consider allowing illegal immigrants to vote in local elections.

On Tuesday, the Richmond City Council voted unanimously to direct the city’s attorneys to conduct a comprehensive review of the city’s charter along with legal research to determine whether noncitizens can be allowed to participate in local elections. Councilman Nathaniel Bates was absent.


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Council members Claudia Jiménez, Eduardo Martinez and Deputy Mayor Demnals Johnson III introduced the motion earlier this month, saying that illegal immigrants are “deprived of a public voice through voting rights” despite the “significant contributions” they make to society and the economy.

“This is a step forward in recognizing their contribution to our society,” Jimenez said during the meeting. “We want to persevere to begin doors for our immigrant community to feel welcome and like the alike rights as Richmond citizens.”

Johnson said Richmond has “a growing number of African and Caribbean immigrants,” and that he wants to ensure that all residents have “a voice in their local government.”

“That’s what local government means. It’s all about the people,” he added.

In a note, the trio presented research from UC Berkeley’s Othering & Belonging Institute showing that other cities outside California have allowed “some form of non-citizen voting.”

While voters must be citizens to vote in state elections, “there is no state law in California prohibiting non-citizens from voting in local elections,” the council members wrote. “Instead, the Local Government Act of the California Constitution gives local jurisdictions the power to organize city elections.”

Stephen Menendian, assistant director of the Berkeley Institute and director of research, was invited to speak at Tuesday’s meeting. He said that historically, non-citizens have been allowed to vote in local elections in the United States

“It’s actually the rule,” Minendian said. “There are many cases in the 20th and 21st centuries of cities allowing non-citizens to vote,” including San Francisco and Chicago.

In 2016, San Francisco voters approved a measure that would allow noncitizen parents or guardians, including undocumented immigrants, to vote in school board elections. This was the first step in the city of California.

However, months prior the 2018 election, city officials raised concerns about the release of voter information to federal immigration officials during President Donald Trump’s immigration campaign. For this reason, the Board of Supervisors issued a decree that would notify voters that their information could be made available to immigration officials in the United States. About 50 non-citizens voted that year.

Councilwoman Jimenez raised the alike concerns during Tuesday’s meeting.

Ali Saeedi, an immigration attorney with the Contra Costa County Public Defender’s Office, who was also invited to speak, said many immigrant families had expressed concerns about whether “any considerate of government interaction” could affect immigration cases in the coming, especially When filling out forms they ask for their voting date.

Saidi said that if the city of Richmond passed such a measure, unregistered residents would have to “attach an appendix showing that they are residents of a city that allows them to vote in municipal elections.”

Dozens were summoned to the meeting, some opposed the clause but the majority supported it, while expressing safety concerns for the unregistered population.

A caller recommended that the council bring this item to the agenda, but urged them to conclude a comprehensive research that does not “jeopardize people’s path to citizenship.”

“This is a very grave issue, and I just hope you do your research to make sure that our illegal immigrants are protected and don’t spoil their path toward citizenship that so many of us are fighting for at this very moment,” the speakers said.

Another caller, who said he was undocumented, said he believed it was “significant to consider the possibilities of involving all Richmond residents in decisions that directly affect them.”

Another caller said the unregistered residents “work firm and contribute to the betterment of this community, and I really hope we can look at what we are as the city of Richmond.” “Are we really a city of pride and purpose? Is that what we are for everyone, or is it just for a positive demographic?”

If the city is sure to have the power, city employees will put an item on the city council’s agenda to consider expanding voting rights for unregistered residents. According to the city clerk’s office, the city administration has not yet set a date for a report to the council.

Jessica Flores is a writer for the San Francisco Chronicle. Email: Twitter: Tweet embed

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