HYATTSVILLE – A long anticipated idea has risen in the Hyattsville City Council chambers and council members heated up over the trail blazing idea. At the city council meeting on Monday, in two separate discussion items, the council began deliberations over new voting and elections regulations and the option of opening up voting in the […]
HYATTSVILLE – A long anticipated idea has risen in the Hyattsville City Council chambers and council members heated up over the trail blazing idea.
At the city council meeting on Monday, in two separate discussion items, the council began deliberations over new voting and elections regulations and the option of opening up voting in the municipality to non-citizen, Hyattsville residents.
In an item sponsored by four council members, the city is considering extending the vote to residents of Hyattsville who have not obtained citizenship in the United States. This would include residents who meet the requirements of being a Hyattsville citizen, such as established residency and paying taxes in the city. Previously, the city has extended the right to vote to citizens of at least 16 years of age.
The new change would be in the form of a charter amendment, which would require a separate database for Hyattsville elections. The right to vote would only pertain to city-wide elections and would in no way allow non-citizens to vote in state and federal elections.
Council Vice President Bart Lawrence said the possible motion would really just change the qualifications for voters in the city.
“You still need to be 16 years of age to vote. You cannot claim the right to vote elsewhere in the United States. The big difference is you do not need to be a citizen of the United States,” he said. “In it, we stipulate how to prove residency and so forth.”
As it currently stands in the proposed language, to prove Hyattsville residency, the applicant can prove residency in the form of a utility bill, a Maryland Vehicle Administrations identification number, a bank statement, pay stub, or an affidavit of cohabitation.
“Though Maryland ended non-citizen voting rights for state and federal elections in 1851, our state’s constitution recognizes the autonomy of local municipalities and localities to grant suffrage in local elections. As of 2012, six Maryland municipalities (Barnesville, Garrett Park, Glen Echo, Martin’s Additions, Takoma Park, and Somerset) allow non-citizens to vote in local elections,” the proposed legislation reads. “Hyattsville can join these municipalities by extending the vote to all of its residents who meet the qualifications listed in the motion language above. Such a change in voter eligibility will increase representation and civic involvement in the city, and it will demonstrate that the city of Hyattsville values the day-to-day lives of all of its residents.”
Although four council members proposed the item, two on the dais stood in stark opposition to the idea.
Paula Perry, who represents Ward 4, said she believes this change needs to go to referendum so the people of the city get a voice in the matter. However, she said she believes that will never happen.
She said, while other members on the board believe this will increase voter participation and increase voter turnout, she believes “giving it away” will not change anything.
“This is a major change and the deficiency (in voting) isn’t because people can’t vote,” she said. “I have a lot immigrants in my ward who are eligible to vote, but they don’t come out and vote. If they’re not engaged, that’s our fault.”
She said the council must work harder to engage immigrants and prove to them their voices are heard. Unless the council really reaches out and listens to immigrants, she said, they are going to continue to not vote and not care.
Perry also raised concerns about devaluing the right to vote. She said this change would take away pride in voting because it is “allowing anybody to vote.”
“I’ve had people who called say that they did get their citizenship and to them this is a slap in the face. Why did they bother? If they wanted to vote in the city election, they could have just waited it out and it would happen,” she said.
Ward 5 Councilwoman Ruth Ann Frazier questioned why the change is even being considered. She said the proposal to remove the “must be a United States Citizen” requirement is “making a mockery of everything.”
“Why are you doing this? Why? Because they pay taxes? Is that a legitimate reason,” she said.
Frazier said, to her, voting is a big deal not because she pays taxes, but because she is a United States citizen.
“I’d like to know where you came up with this idea and what you think it’s going to solve,” Frazier said to her fellow council members. “I truly, truly do, because you seem to have all the answers.”
Councilman Patrick Paschall, visibly heated, said he is tired of hearing council members oppose the progressive nature of Hyattsville and tired of the “coded language” used against minorities in the community.
“This is a community that is a progressive community, that is increasingly progressive. It is a community that is excited about the changes that we are making,” he said. “We have early voting and I heard a buzz in the community about early voting. We had more people in this chamber than I have ever seen on any issue, to stand in support of lowing the voting age to 16. So I am so tired of hearing the racist rhetoric that we hear on this council.”
Paschall, despite Perry and Frazier’s insinuation that the sponsors of the bill do not value voting, said he values the right to vote so much that he thinks every single resident of the city should be able to partake in it.
“In fact, I value it so much that I think every single person that lives in this city, who drives on our roads, who pays our city taxes, who engages with the city on all kinds of fronts like road maintenance, sidewalk repairs and trash collection,” he said. “These are the very issues that are the bread and butter of what our city does.”
Councilman Kevin Ward said by listening to the discussion on the dais, he can’t help but wonder what his grandmother heard in the 1950s, his aunt heard in the 1940s, and his cousins heard in the 1980s when people tried to prevent them from voting. Ward said he has always considered Hyattsville a welcoming community.
He said there are people in the community who have struggled to make their green card requirements for years, who are dedicated to the city of Hyattsville, whose children go to school in the city, and they have no say in what happens to their tax money or how the city handles their community issues.
“I find it disconcerting that those folks who are as committed to Hyattsville as I am and they don’t get the right to vote. I can’t sit here and say that I don’t support getting them the right to vote,” he said. “It is something that is very important.”