College Park residents who are not U.S. citizens might soon be eligible to vote in city elections. The issue, discussed at Tuesday night’s College Park City Council work session, has been considered for several months now. It was first raised in May, when District 1 Councilman Patrick Wojahn brought it up at a work session on behalf of a resident.
“These residents have an investment in their community and want to see College Park thrive and do well,” Wojahn said. “We should give them the opportunity to participate.”
College Park law prohibits noncitizen residents from voting. Meanwhile, nearby cities such as Takoma Park have supplemental voter lists, which allow anyone who is a resident to register separately regardless of their citizenship status.
“We have a hard enough time getting turnout from people who live here,” said Stephanie Stullich, District 3 councilwoman. “We should focus on the long-term residents in our community who can’t participate, although they may be very involved and very active.”
Although the changes would give long-term residents the voice they’ve been missing, some council members reported their constituents were wary of the idea. However, the council members reassured the them that the new voters would be residents just like them.
“Some of our residents are very protective of their right to vote,” District 4 Councilman Alan Hew said. “When I try to defend our reasoning, the strongest argument I can think of is that many of these noncitizens are home-owning residents of College Park.”
Though the changes are intended to target city residents who are not U.S. citizens, they would also affect this university’s international students and faculty, who spend time in the area but are not eligible to vote because of their noncitizen statuses.
“We have a very diverse student body,” Cole Holocker, student liaison to the City Council, said. “Not all the faculty or students are residents of the United States. This would provide an incentive for people to come and live in College Park.”
City staff estimated at the work session that 200 to 300 residents would become newly eligible if the changes were made. The council is still deciding whether these residents would need a green card, visa or both to qualify for voter status.
“We have issues to resolve before we can move forward,” Mayor Andy Fellows said.
The changes, if made, will not go into effect in time for the next election on Nov. 3, 2015, but the council hopes to have them in place for the election after that.