By Leah Brennan and Angela Jacob
College Park officials said Friday that a proposed city charter amendment allowing non-U.S. citizens to vote in municipal elections would not be adopted, days after the city council announced its passage.
After hours of debate, the city council said the amendment passed with a 4-3 vote in favor of the proposal Tuesday night. The provision was set to go into effect in time for the 2019 elections.
Most city council actions only require a simple majority among the eight voting council members to be adopted, but as of June, changes to the city’s charter require at least six affirmative votes, according to a city press release sent to media and residents Friday night.
The mayor and council published a statement addressing the oversight on the city’s website Saturday following an administrative function session and closed session that morning in which they consulted with counsel on legal matter pursuant to the city’s charter.
“It is with considerable embarrassment and regret that we acknowledge our oversight regarding the vote on the proposed Charter Amendment to allow voting by non-U.S. citizens in College Park City elections,” the statement reads. “We each accept our responsibility for not realizing the impact of the June charter amendment on Council procedures and we apologize to our residents … we will continue to seek ways to make everyone feel welcome and included in our City.”
The only thing that came out of Saturday morning’s meeting was the statement that was released, Mayor Patrick Wojahn said. He said that the council will read the statement at Tuesday night’s worksession, but nothing else regarding the issue will take place Tuesday night.
“The council realized that after reviewing the charter and the amendments that we had passed this summer, and it was brought to my attention by one of my colleagues yesterday afternoon,” Wojahn said, noting that the colleague had contacted city staff and the city attorney to review the impact of the six-vote requirement on the proposed charter amendment, after which he and the rest of the council were contacted.
Regarding who is in charge of making sure that necessary process is followed, Wojahn referred back to the statement and added that “one thing we are going to do moving forward is when a charter amendment does comes up” is include the requirements needed to approve that amendment in any notice about it.
The charter amendment requiring that changes to the city’s charter need at least six affirmative votes passed in April and came into effect 50 days later in June, Wojahn said.
“We are taking steps to make sure that this never happens again in the future, but I don’t want to get into what happened, in this case,” Wojahn said. “We’re taking steps to make sure it never happens again, and we all take responsibility for the oversight as it says in the statement.”
There are no plans at this time to revisit the proposed charter amendment, which would allow noncitizens to vote in municipal elections, Wojahn said, but he added that it’s up to the council if they want to bring it up again.
“At this point, what I would like us to do is move on and explore other ways that we can work with the immigrant community in College Park, help ensure that they do feel fully part of our community,” Wojahn said. “I think there are other ways that we can do that in the course of this discussion … I would like to continue with that dialogue without any further discussion of this amendment.”
Since the amendment was proposed earlier this year, it has brought controversy among council members, residents and people nationwide. Supporters of the amendment said it would allow representation to community members who pay local taxes, while others say this privilege should only be for those who are U.S. citizens.
Hyattsville became the first city in Prince George’s County to allow noncitizens to vote in December. There are at least 10 municipalities in Maryland that have adopted similar policies.
CORRECTION: Due to an editing error, a previous version of this story misstated the amount of voting city council members. This story has been updated.