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Friday, September 29, 2023

Councilmembers restart conversation about allowing noncitizens to vote in Santa Ana elections – Orange County Register

At least two Santa Ana councilmembers said they think local voters should decide if noncitizen residents in the city should be allowed to vote in local elections.

Noncitizen residents make up about 24% of Santa Ana’s population, and nearly 20% of Orange County’s noncitizen resident population lives in Santa Ana, city officials quoted from US Census Bureau statistics. Immigrant residents, including noncitizen residents, in Orange County contributed $10.5 billion in taxes in 2018, according to the American Immigration Council.

But noncitizens can’t vote for the local lawmakers who help set the policies affecting their everyday lives, councilmembers Johnathan Hernandez and Benjamin Vazquez said in requesting their City Council colleagues consider putting on the November 2024 ballot the question of allowing residents who are not U.S. citizens to vote in local elections. The City Council is set to decide at its Tuesday night meeting whether or not to direct city staff to look into the options.

“We know that the right to vote isn’t set in stone. It’s an open book and we’re fighting to push it forward,” Vazquez said during a press conference Tuesday afternoon before the meeting. “The founding fathers of this country could not have imagined a world where the Black community, (community) of color or women had the right to vote. We have won those rights. Now, we ask that you see immigrants for their humanity with the rights that give them a role in the government in which they live.”

The idea of noncitizens voting in Santa Ana has been brought before the City Council before, in 2022, but was shelved when City Manager Kristine Ridge told councilmembers there was not enough time to address “numerous legal, policy and implementation questions that need to be addressed” in the window left at that point to place such a measure on the November 2022 ballot.

Currently, 17 jurisdictions in the country allow noncitizen residents to legally vote in local elections, including in San Francisco where a charter amendment in 2016 allows for noncitizen voting in school board elections. In August, the California First District Court of Appeal rejected a legal challenge to the amendment, deciding that “neither the plain language of the Constitution nor its history prohibits legislation expanding the electorate to noncitizens.”

Now, the conversation “is not about whether the city of Santa Ana has the legal power to do it or not. Today is about whether they have the political will to do it,” said Carlos Perea, executive director at the Harbor Institute for Immigrant and Economic Justice, who participated at Tuesday’s press conference with the two councilmembers.

Santa Ana has already been a leader in protecting civil rights and its immigrant and refugee communities with recent policies and this would continue that momentum, Hernandez said.

“The city has passed model policies to increase the participation of noncitizen residents in the city’s civic business. These policies resulted in the city’s sanctuary city designation in 2016, the creation of a deportation defense fund in 2017 and an amendment to the city’s municipal code that allowed noncitizens to serve on any city board, commission and committee in 2021,” Isuri Ramos, deputy director at the community and Latino advocacy organization Chispa, said in a letter to the City Council. “The city must continue to be a model for inclusion and democracy.”

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