Voters at College Park Community Center (NY Times)

Voters at a College Park voting station (Credit: The NY Times)

At tomorrow’s City Council worksession, the Council will discuss the possibility of a non-binding referendum on this fall’s ballot. The Councill will most likely vote on this measure at the September 12 meeting. If approved, the residents will get a chance to vote on the non-citizens voting question at the November 7 election.

We may support or oppose allowing non-citizens to vote at the City elections, but having a referendum on this matter makes a lot of sense to me.

1. Allowing non-citizens to vote will require the Council to change the City Charter. A City Charter is recognized as the single most “sacred” document of City’s guiding principles, and thus the City Council needs to be extra carefulwhen it decides to change it. It’s true that the City Council is a representative body and makes a lot of decision on City’s operations and policies, however changing the City Charter should be taken more seriously than approving resolutions.

2. Get input from those who put you in the office. Being the elected body, the City Council should seek every opportunity to get input from the residents who put them in office in the first place. It’s true that the Council held a public hearing and took some email comments from residents, however, the number of these comments is rather insufficient. We yet to hear from many more residents who haven’t spoken to us or written to us.

3. College Park won’t be the first municipality if it holds a referendum on non-citizen voting. The City of Takoma Park held a referendum back in 1991 when they decided to allow non-residents to vote. You can find the referendum results here:

4. The election is so close. If we were in January 2018, then we had to wait for two more years to hold the referendum; however, the November 7 election is barely two months from now and gives us an excellent opportunity to hold a referendum on such an important matter.

5. The decision was delayed in the past. This is not the first time; the City Council will be considering the non-citizen voting issues. The issue came before Council back in 2014 and was delayed indefinitely. I think everyone will appreciate if the City Council delays the decision on this matter by a few more months.

6. Positions on Options. Holding a referendum may allow us to get input on other options on noncitizens voting, such as allowing Green card holders (U.S. permanent residents) to vote at City elections. So far, City never asked residents to provide input on those alternate options. For example, a referendum question may ask voters to choose one of the three options: (a) Allow only U.S. citizens to vote (b) Allow U.S. Citizens and U.S. Permanent residents to vote and (c) Allow all residents to vote, irrespective of immigration status.

7. Perception: There appears to be a perception among some residents that some members of the current City Council are proposing to make the changes to get benefit in the upcoming 2017 City election. While I strongly disagree with these theories, I also think that putting the non-citizens voting to a referendum will stop having these accusations against the incumbent candidates at the November 2017 election. If we have a referendum at the November election, the next Council will make the final decision on noncitizens voting. In other words, the new non-citizens voters will not be able to vote for the incumbent Council candidates at the November 2017 election.

Please let me know what you think. Thank you!