By: Joseph Montgomery
One year ago, San Francisco voters approved a ballot measure that allows noncitizen parents of K-12 schoolchildren to vote in local school board elections. This measure, known as Proposition N, received 53% of the vote in the November 2016 election. Specifically, it allows San Franciscan parents, legal guardians, or legally-recognized caregivers to vote for school board members, regardless of their immigration status. The person must be of legal voting age and not in prison or on parole for a felony conviction. Proposition N will become effective for the November elections in 2018, 2020, and 2022, and can only be extended after that through an ordinance by the San Francisco Board of Supervisors.
Unsurprisingly, this ballot measure sparked debate before its passage, and the controversy continues as President Trump’s views and unrelenting commentary on immigration continue to color the national dialogue on immigrants and immigration generally. Many San Franciscans approve of Proposition N and are happy with its passage, although reasons differ. Many noncitizen parents look forward to having a say in who sits on the school board that governs their children’s schools. Other parents think this is just common sense; if the city allows their children to attend a school, why not give the parents a vote in a school board election that will impact their kids? While San Francisco is known for its sanctuary city policies, to many noncitizen parents this was a much-needed addition that gives them a sense of belonging and agency, and feel it shows San Francisco’s commitment to its schoolchildren of all backgrounds and affords all parents an opportunity to be involved in their child’s education.
Although the previous paragraph paints a pretty picture of a community coming together with a common goal, not all San Franciscans view Proposition N through such a rosy lens. Harmeet Dhillon, the national committeewoman of California for the Republican National Committee, was not in favor of Proposition N: “San Francisco, I’ve called it the utopian petri dish of California… [b]ad ideas that survive the chemical process here tend to spread and metastasize throughout California. And I’m afraid that’s what’s going on here.” Dhillon is an attorney specializing in election law, and thinks that allowing noncitizens, specifically undocumented immigrants, to vote even in such limited circumstances as a school board election, is likely to spur voter fraud. She and other Republicans nationwide have criticized California for not doing a better job of monitoring fraudulent voting, even though California Secretary of State Alex Padilla stated there’s no evidence to support claims that California voter rolls include undocumented people who cannot vote. Some parents in San Francisco also do not support Proposition N, and feel that parents or guardians should be taxpayers in order to cast a vote for the school board.
Although Proposition N’s passage and the controversy surrounding it are fairly new, legislation allowing noncitizens to vote in limited circumstances has existed in the United States for some time. Chicago grants all parents the right to vote in local school council elections, and several towns in Maryland allow noncitizens to take part in local voting. New York City allowed noncitizens to vote in local school board elections until their school boards were dissolved in 2002. However, in a Trump presidency that has taken a hardline position against undocumented immigrants, many noncitizen parents worry about the future of their new voting right. Proponents of the ballot measure worry that many noncitizens will now prefer to remain under the radar and not actually exercise their vote. However, many parent groups and other advocacy organizations, like the Chinese American Voters Education Committee, are encouraging noncitizens to exercise their votes and impact their children’s education.
Now that Proposition N has been passed, it comes down to actually implementing the ballot measure in time for the 2018 election. While Proposition N has garnered a lot of attention and controversy, the main focus of John Arntz (the man responsible for implementing it) is just making sure the measure gets implemented smoothly. “Just stay to the goal and get it implemented and run the election, and everything else will pass by,” he said. All in all, Proposition N has been passed and is currently being implemented, but many noncitizens are still concerned for the future.
Scott Shafer, “Trump Election Complicates Noncitizen Voting in S.F.” KQED News. https://ww2.kqed.org/news/2017/04/25/trump-election-complicates-noncitizen-voting-in-s-f/
Melissa Hellman, “San Francisco Gives Immigrant Parents a Voice Through Noncitizen Voting” Yes! Magazine. http://www.yesmagazine.org/peace-justice/san-francisco-gives-immigrant-parents-a-voice-through-noncitizen-voting-rights-20170227
Rong-Gong Lin II, “San Francisco Measure to Allow Noncitizen Parents to Vote in School Board Elections Leading” L.A. Times. http://www.latimes.com/nation/politics/trailguide/la-na-election-aftermath-updates-trail-san-francisco-measure-to-allow-1478692962-htmlstory.html
“Non-Citizen Voting in School Board Elections” San Francisco Voter Information Pamphlet & Sample Ballot. http://voterguide.sfelections.org/en/non-citizen-voting-school-board-elections