The College Park City Council held a lively public hearing Tuesday night on a proposal to eliminate U.S. citizenship as a voter registration requirement for city elections.
Currently, the city uses the Prince George’s County Board of Elections voter list, which has to satisfy Maryland’s voter registration guidelines, including a requirement for U.S. citizenship.
More than 30 residents attended to listen to the public comment session, and about 10 of those residents stood up to voice their concerns on the issues and to represent their interests.
City resident and U.S. Army veteran Larry Provost stood firmly opposed to the amendment. He said he and his wife try to teach their child, whom they adopted from overseas, about what it means to be a citizen.
“Voting is a right, but it is also a privilege,” Provost said. “There are standards for voting. It is no mistake that the 14th Amendment gave citizenship and the 15th Amendment gave the right to vote. I would urge the council to look elsewhere to integrate our non-citizens.”
Another resident, Tim Miller, was concerned about the amendment’s associated costs.
“Here goes this council again, doing something that will cost the city money,” Miller said, focusing on how the city would pay for maintaining expanded voter rolls.
Julio Murillo came to the city council meeting representing CASA de Maryland, a Latino and immigration advocacy and assistance organization where he serves as a policy analyst.
“CASA supports the charter amendment,” Murillo said. “A fundamental service is provided by local government, and it affects all residents.”
By extending the right to vote in local elections to non-citizens, he said “city residents will feel a stronger bond with their neighbors and create a stronger community.”
Resident Arun Ivatury, who was also in favor of the amendment, said it is not as radical in nature as its opponents fear, citing other cities in Maryland that already allow non-citizens to vote.
The Washington Post reported in December that seven cities in Maryland — including Hyattsville, located in Prince George’s County — allow non-citizens to vote.
John Krouse, a former councilmember, stood up to address those he felt were misrepresenting the constitutionality of the amendment.
Krouse said that while U.S. citizenship is administered under the U.S. Constitution, local levels of government have historically determined the rules of voting in Maryland, Prince George’s County and College Park.
“I’d like to empower as many of my resident neighbors as possible,” Krouse added.
Resident Jack Robson agreed that it’s important to empower non-citizens in a permanent way. However, he said he didn’t think voting should be open to all non-citizens — just those with green cards.
“Green-card holders have left their country and made a decision to make this their country,” Robson said. “They could be rewarded by our city by giving them a vote in the city.”
Other residents, like Dan Blasberg, remained undecided.
While Blasberg said he believes city council members represent all residents, he also said he thinks voting is a privilege.
“If they’re a non-resident of the U.S., why should they be extended the privilege of voting in a country they’re not from?” Blasberg asked, adding that he remains open to more discussion.
The city council plans to vote on the amendment on Aug. 8, Mayor Patrick Wojahn said. If it passes, non-citizens would be able to vote in the November 2017 elections.