Legislation that would allow noncitizens to vote in local elections in the District quickly gained momentum Tuesday as a committee approved the bill, sending it to the full D.C. Council for consideration.
If it ultimately passes, undocumented immigrants, green card holders and people with visas would be able to vote in elections for positions in the city, such as mayor, council member and attorney general. They would be allowed to cast a ballot as long as they meet the same age and residency requirements as every other voter.
“This committee has focused on removing barriers to voting and lifting the voices of all District voters, particularly those in historically underrepresented communities,” said Charles Allen, chairman of the council’s judiciary and public safety committee.
D.C. would join a number of jurisdictions in Maryland that allow noncitizens to vote in local elections, including Hyattsville, Mount Rainier and Takoma Park.
An effort to pass a similar measure failed in College Park in 2017.
“Noncitizens will be able to vote in local elections only,” Allen said, clarifying the potential changes. “We cannot change federal law, which continues to prohibit noncitizens from voting in federal elections.”
Allen cited research showing that one in seven D.C. residents is an immigrant.
“Immigrants support our economy, they start businesses and they pay taxes,” Allen argued.
Critics of the idea have said that voting should be a right only for those who have fully become U.S. citizens.
A judge threw out a law in New York City earlier this year, ruling that the city would not be allowed to let noncitizens vote in local elections.
Supporters of the measure said it would give an electoral voice to many people who have made a home in the city and pay taxes, but face tough paths to citizenship.
New York GOP Chair Nick Langworthy and several Republican elected officials said it violated provisions in the state constitution and state election law that specifically give voting rights to citizens.
State court Judge Ralph Porzio agreed with the GOP.
“Though voting is a right that so many citizens take for granted, the City of New York cannot ‘obviate’ the restrictions imposed by the Constitution,” wrote Porzio.
His ruling blocked the city from registering potentially more than 800,000 new voters without U.S. citizenship.
The Associated Press contributed to this report.
Editor’s Note: This story has been updated to clarify who would be affected.