Lawsuit challenging DC noncitizen voting law moves to federal court

After the D.C. Council passed a bill allowing noncitizens to vote in local elections, a group of voters — including a previous Republican mayoral candidate for the District — sued the Board of Elections. That case has now moved to the federal court system.

The lawsuit challenging the Local Resident Voting Rights Amendment Act of 2022, which allows green-card holders and residents who entered or live in the country without legal permission to cast ballots in local races, was initially filed in D.C. Superior Court.

According to court documents, the case was moved to the U.S. District Court on May 4.

Seven voters are listed plaintiffs in the suit. They include former GOP mayoral candidate Stacia Hall, former GOP candidate for at-large DC Councilmember Ralph Chittams and Dick Heller, whose 2008 Supreme Court case struck down key gun legislation in the District.

Complaints from the group filed on March 14, allege that the D.C. law infringes on their right to vote, discriminates against citizens living in D.C. and violates the constitutional right to self-governance.

In a court filing, lawyers representing the group argued that this voting rights amendment, which took effect in November of 2022 without the signature of D.C. Mayor Muriel Bowser, be permanently blocked. That filing lists Christopher J. Hajec, the director of litigation for the Immigration Reform Law Institute (IRLI) in Washington, D.C, as the group’s representative.

In a release announcing that suit, Hajec said the constitutional right to vote was violated and that the bill allows “illegal aliens and even foreign diplomats” to vote.

“This law—and others like it that are popping up around the country—is a direct attack on American self-government,” Hajec said in a statement. “The proponents of this law claim it gives citizens of foreign nations a ‘voice’ in the affairs of the city they reside in. But they already have a voice, protected by the First Amendment.”

When the bill initially passed, D.C. Council member Charles Allen and other supporters said the measure would support those living in the region by allowing workers and residents who pay taxes and contribute to local economies to participate in local elections, especially when the U.S. immigration system has a long, winding path to citizenship.

“This committee has focused on removing barriers to voting and lifting the voices of all District voters, particularly those in historically underrepresented communities,” Allen told the council’s judiciary and public safety committee.

In February, the District’s law faced a bipartisan effort to block the legislation in the House of Representatives. Norton called the move paternalistic and in a late-night debate, decried House moves to violate the city’s self-governance.

Efforts to block the bill failed after Senate committee members allowed the chamber’s resolution to die. The law went into effect on Feb. 23.

D.C.’s noncitizen voting law mirrored local election laws in nearby jurisdictions, including Hyattsville, Mount Rainier and Takoma Park in Maryland.

Ivy Lyons

Ivy Lyons is a digital journalist for Since 2018, they have worked on Capitol Hill, at NBC News in Washington, and with WJLA in Washington.

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