HYATTSVILLE – Non-United States citizens claiming residence in Hyattsville are one step closer to obtaining a voice in municipal elections after the city council voted to have the city attorney draft an amendment to the city charter. On Monday, the city council and mayor voted 7-2 in favor of directing the city attorney to draft […]
HYATTSVILLE – Non-United States citizens claiming residence in Hyattsville are one step closer to obtaining a voice in municipal elections after the city council voted to have the city attorney draft an amendment to the city charter.
On Monday, the city council and mayor voted 7-2 in favor of directing the city attorney to draft a charter amendment to change the voter qualifications for municipal elections.
The change would allow non-U.S. residents who have claimed residence in Hyattsville for more than 14 days to vote in city elections. This does not, however, mean those newly qualified will have the opportunity to vote in state or federal elections.
The new qualifications, according to the motion form submitted to the council, would include: claiming the city of Hyattsville as the voter’s primary residence, residing in Hyattsville for at least 14 days, be at least 16 years old, not claim the right to vote elsewhere, and “not be under guardianship for mental disability or if you are, you have not been found by a court to be unable to communicate a desire to vote.”
If Hyattsville passes the charter amendment, it would join six other municipalities in Maryland who have extended voting rights to noncitizens.
According to council documents, CASA de Maryland approximates that nearly 15 percent of the city’s residents are immigrants and Councilmen Patrick Paschall and Joseph Solomon, two of the motion makers, both believe those residents deserve a voice.
Paschall noted most of the immigrants, who are not yet U.S. citizens for a variety of reasons, still pay taxes to the city and still want their neighborhoods to remain safe but remain voiceless in municipal elections.
“We’re dealing with trash collection and police services in our community. We’re dealing with recreation services in our community. These are the kinds of things that residents in our city deal with everyday and should have a voice in electing the city’s elected leaders who make decisions,” Paschall said.
Tracey Nicholson, the city administrator, said she believes the motion makers, Paschall, Solomon, Bart Lawrence and Edouard Haba, hope the process continues smoothly and to have the charter amendment approved by the next election.
“What I hope is that our city attorney will be able to turn around a draft to us in about a month, we’ll be able to review that and have a discussion in probably, about, November,” Paschall said.
The city is also planning at least one public hearing in October to gauge public reaction and opinion on the proposed charter amendment. Paschall said he hopes to have the new charter amendment passed and put into place by the end of 2016, or at the latest, in time for the municipal elections in May.
“The question here is not ‘what does the motion look like?’ I think we’re all pretty clear on what the motion looks like,” Paschall said. “The question is whether or not this is something our community wants to see happen.”
The ongoing process of drafting the charter has lasted months and the public has also supplied feedback on the motion throughout the course of the proceedings. Members of the immigrant community came out in force to support the change several months ago when the motion was initially introduced to council, though some residents are still hesitant on the matter.
Conflict arose in the past few council meetings where the matter was discussed as two members on council made their dissatisfaction with the motion known. Both Ruth Ann Frazier and Paula Perry opposed the idea of noncitizen voting and both voted against the motion Monday night.
Perry had previously lamented the motion, claiming it was just giving a right away and that it is “allowing anybody to vote,” but she and Frazier both remained silent during the discussion on Monday.
“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,” Perry said in January.
Solomon said he can see where the fear of this legislation comes from, but both he and Paschall believe that fear can be subdued by informing the public of the facts of the motion.
“There is some educating that we need to do on what it is that we’re proposing,” Solomon said. “I think that will help us to understand the anxiety around it, but also to clarify which community this is targeting.”
Solomon said some in the Hyattsville community think allowing noncitizens to vote would diminish the voices of those who are longtime residents, but that is not the intention, he said.
“I don’t think the value of anyone’s vote will be diminished because of this. I think it is just demonstrating a willingness to listen to everyone,” he said.
Shirley Fisher, a resident of Ward 5, has remained outspoken on the issue and has often questioned why the decision was not left up to the residents.
On Monday, Fisher asked the council if the resolution would ever be taken to referendum for the people to have a say, unlike when the city lowered the voting age.
“We weren’t spoken to and we weren’t represented with the teen voting and now this is coming up and nobody knew anything about it,” she said, asking if the motion would be voted on without any resident input.
However, Paschall said there was never any intention to bring this charter amendment to referendum.
“I strongly believe that we shouldn’t put things like enfranchisement of populations on the referendum ballot. If that was true women would have never had the right to vote, people of color would have never had the right to vote in this country,” Paschall said. “Its just fundamentally undemocratic to say that we’re going to vote whether another group of people should be allowed to be a part of the voting process.”
Although the charter amendment will not go to referendum, Paschall said the community will have ample input on the matter and noted the council can amend the city attorney’s drafted charter amendment after the public hearing.
“It will be at that time that council members can propose to amend sections of the proposal. It will be at that time that council members can express their concerns or support for the piece of legislation,” he said. “And then what we’ll ultimately see is whether it passes and whether it gets implemented.”