Conservative Group Files Suit Over Oakland Measure Allowing Noncitizen Voting in School Board Races

Opponents of a measure approved by Oakland voters to allow noncitizen parents to vote in school board elections filed suit Thursday, claiming it violates voting restrictions in the California Constitution, an argument endorsed earlier this year by a judge considering a similar measure in San Francisco.

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Measure S, backed by 62% of Oakland’s voters on Nov. 8, authorizes the City Council to pass a law allowing non-U.S. citizens who are parents or guardians of school-age children to vote in the next local school elections. Council members, who voted to place the measure on the ballot, said noncitizens, including undocumented immigrants as well as legal residents, make up about 14% of Oakland’s population, about 13,000 are parents or guardians of children younger than 18, and they lack “representation in key decisions that impact their education and their lives.”

The lawsuit, filed by the conservative United States Justice Foundation and its president, James V. Lacy, cites a long-standing provision of the state Constitution that says, “A United States citizen 18 years of age and resident in this State may vote.” That means, they argued, that only U.S. citizens can vote in a state or local election in California.

“Voter qualifications is an issue of statewide concern, not subject to local regulation by a charter city,” attorney Chad Morgan wrote in the suit, filed in Alameda County Superior Court.

“If noncitizens are allowed to vote, the voting rights of all citizens are unconstitutionally deprived, diluted and devalued,” Lacy said in an accompanying statement.

The same plaintiffs filed a similar suit to try to remove Measure S from the ballot, but Superior Court Judge Michael Markman refused, saying it was too early to consider the arguments. He noted that the measure would merely authorize the City Council to act, and that courts generally wait until after an election to decide the validity of ballot measures. He also said the issue was likely to be decided by higher state courts.

But Lacy and his organization have made more headway in San Francisco, whose voters approved the state’s first such ordinance. It took effect in 2018 and was extended by city supervisors in 2021.

The San Francisco city attorney’s office argued that the constitutional language saying citizens “may vote” was permissive and did not prohibit local governments from allowing others to vote. Self-governing charter cities like San Francisco can serve as “laboratories of democracy demonstrating the benefits of noncitizen voting in local contests,” Deputy City Attorney James Emery wrote in a court filing.

Superior Court Judge James Ulmer disagreed in July. “Transcendent law of California, the Constitution… reserves the right to vote to a United States citizen, contrary to (the) San Francisco ordinance,” Ulmer wrote in a ruling that would prohibit the city from enforcing the ordinance or counting noncitizens’ votes. Based on the logic of the city’s argument, he said, “children under 18 and residents of other states ‘may also’ vote in California elections, which our Constitution does not allow.”

Click here to read the full article in the SF Chronicle

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