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San Francisco Superior Court Revokes Non-Citizen Parents’ Right to Vote in School Board Elections
Sunday, August 07, 2022

San Francisco Superior Court Revokes Non-Citizen Parents’ Right to Vote in School Board Elections

San Francisco’s Superior Court revoked the right to vote in school board elections from non-citizen parents on Friday in response to Orange County lawyer James V. Lacy’s lawsuit against the city over three months ago. 

Superior Court Judge Richard B. Ulmer ruled that the 2016 ordinance that gave voting rights to non-citizen parents—including green card holders, work visa holders, refugees and undocumented immigrants—is “contrary to the California constitution and state statutes and thus cannot stand.” 

The writ also includes a permanent injunction prohibiting the city from using the ordinance to allow non-citizen voting in future elections. 

Ulmer’s decision came just a month after a Staten Island Supreme Court Justice denied a law that allowed non-citizens to vote in New York elections—deeming it unconstitutional. 

“When noncitizens vote in an election, the voting rights of citizens are wrongly diluted,” Lacy said in a prepared statement. 

He argued that San Francisco residents have a clear interest in ensuring their school board elections follow state law, especially because state taxpayers partially fund school districts. 

Yohannes Yetbarek of African Advocacy Network poses for a portrait on McAllister Street in front of San Francisco Superior Courthouse before the start of Lacy V. City and County of San Francisco hearing on Thursday, July 28, 2022 in San Francisco. | Ekevara Kitpowsong

But in 2016 Proposition N—a measure that allowed non-citizen residents with a child under 19 to vote in school board elections— was passed by San Francisco voters. The ordinance was set to expire in 2022, but the Board of Supervisors extended the voting rights indefinitely in 2021.

Until the early 1900’s noncitizens were allowed to vote in 22 states across the country. Now, non-citizen residents can vote in local elections in 11 cities across Maryland and two in Vermont. 

Chinese for Affirmative Action, Immigrant’s Rights Commission, and city officials Connie Chan and David Chiu gathered outside of San Francisco’s Superior court in anticipation of the judge’s decision Thursday, carrying signs reading “no decision about us, without us.” 

See Also
San Francisco City Attorney David Chiu attends the gathering on McAllister Street in front of San Francisco Superior Courthouse before the start of Lacy V. City and County of San Francisco hearing on Thursday, July 28, 2022 in San Francisco. | Ekevara Kitpowsong

Immigrant parent Amos Lim said naturalization is not an option for many parents, because by the time they become citizens, their children could be done with school. He emphasized the importance of voting to address social inequities and assure his children’s success in a divided school system. 

“We are our kids’ best advocates,” Lim said. 

The city attorney’s office backed community advocates and city supervisors in their efforts to extend voting rights.

“The Court’s decision is disappointing,” city attorney’s office spokesperson Jen Kwart said. “We firmly believe that allowing noncitizen parents to vote in school board elections is not only permissible but beneficial to our communities. We will review the decision and evaluate next steps.”

  • I’m going to be a bit reductive as a non-scholar, but by revoking this right, doesn’t that fly in the face of the notion of being a sanctuary city? The argument that it’s unconstitutional for the California constitution seems irrelevant to me – we dont say we are a sanctuary state, we say we are a sanctuary city. What gives???

  • Good. This law never made sense.

    It’s relatively easy to become a citizen here. Not like most countries. Longtime residents who want to take part in elections can become citizens. Citizenship comes with rights, privileges and obligations like jury duty.

    People who aren’t personally invested in the future of this country should not vote on anything involving its future. They’re visitors and tourists until they’re not.

  • The judge made a decision based on a strict interpretation of the law, perhaps, but that doesn’t prevent us from taking the concerns of non-citizens into consideration in other ways. For example, the City could authorize a survey to be taken of the concerns and thoughts of non-citizens with children in school, publicize the results, and voters could at least then take those concerns and ideas into consideration when we vote. After all, it’s in everyone’s best interest to have the next generation be well educated and productive citizens.

  • In response to Mr. Jones, it’s not easy to become a citizen in this country, if it was so simple we wouldn’t need lawyers to assist with the process. It takes many years in fact to become a citizen, it’s not an instant gift of citizenship when you apply, we have several years of paying taxes and social security, proving we are good people before we can apply. I am a green card holder and during time as one my children have attended schools.

    Not being able to vote for the board of a local school district is frankly ridiculous. I can stand in front of the board and fight for my children but I cannot have a say on who is there. It’s not a federal or state official election and the only reason they do the voting at the same time as other elections is so they have a turnout. The board follows the rules set down from the state officials. I can be a teacher as a green card holder, I could even be the principal of the school but I’d have no say in the board that employs me.

    Personally there should be more rage from electing persons who have no vested interest in the school system but use it as a means to move in political circles and get their names out there, but there won’t be.

  • Good decision. Citizenship should mean something. Understand what country you are from and stand behind it. It you want to participate in the United States become a citizen.

    Noncitizens can vote in their own country, not ours.

  • Dear Harold
    It is NOT relatively easy….
    It takes on roughly 7.1 years to become a US citizen and that’s IF you do everything right.
    From the USCIS website – “In general, a noncitizen must spend at least 5 years as a lawful permanent resident to be eligible for naturalization while a spouse of a U.S. citizen must spend at least 3 years as a lawful permanent resident.” The MEDIAN years spent as an LPR for all citizens naturalized in FY 2020 was 7.1 YEARS.”

    Our current immigration laws are inherently racist and have been for quite a while now.

    As contrast, see Ellis Island website – “First and second class passengers arriving in New York Harbor were not required to undergo the inspection process at Ellis Island. Instead, these passengers received a cursory inspection aboard the ship. However, regardless of class, sick passengers or those with legal problems were sent to Ellis Island for further inspection. This scenario was far different for third class passengers, commonly referred to as “steerage.” If an immigrant’s papers were in order and they were in reasonably good health, the Ellis Island inspection process lasted 3 to 5 hours.

    Boom ! Welcome to America. You’re a citizen now.

    Going from literally the time needed for stepping off the boat (if you were wealthy) up to just 3-5 hours (if you were not) in becoming a citizen back then versus 7.1 years needed now is outrageous to say the least.

  • These people work in the city and pay taxes. If I recall correctly, we fought a war in this country over taxation without representation.

  • It is very easy to become a citizen I did it 4 years ago. I My wife and I filled in all the paperwork ourselves

  • For those who say it will be too late because their children would have graduated. Heck, why didn’t you start the process when your kind was a baby and even better, start the process when you know you wanted a family. Just a lame excuse.

  • any taxes (government or social security) have NOTHING to do with naturalization. just pay the fee and show you didn’t commit any crimes. how do you not know this?

  • Green Card Holder: You are still a guest, until you’re not. When you are a citizen you can vote. Until then this country is giving your kids a free education, and you are complaining about it. If you want more input, there are private schools that may be more interested in your opinion.

    Kirk: We have improved our citizenship standards since Ellis Island. That’s a good thing, right? 7.1 years median seems reasonable. First of all, it’s a median: half of all new citizens spend less time here. Second, the US requires naturalized citizens to pledge allegiance to this country, not their homeland. Not everyone is certain they want to do that after 2 or 3 years. We want people who want to be here; to take part in every aspect of civic life. We don’t want people like Green Card Holder to jet in, vote for changes in the local school board, and then decide to go back home for the rest of their lives. We want people who are committed. And those, we welcome.

  • Tim Wayne: People who work in multiple states have to pay taxes in multiple states, but they only get to vote (legally) in one. They have to choose one as their primary permanent residence.

    That’s what citizenship is.

  • I’m neither a “visitor” nor a “tourist,” but a tax-paying resident with a kid in the SFUSD school system. I won’t be able to elect the school board members who decide about my kid’s curriculum and other school matters, but a childless citizen who will never be affected by those decisions can. Why is that fair?

  • Happy they revoked that ridiculous law. I mean in their country of origin do the government allow non citizens the same privileges and rights as naturalized citizens? Good job SF Superior Court!

  • Christoph from Germany: A childless citizen is a citizen. That person will be affected by school-board decisions because the school system’s graduates will be his/her fellow citizens, presumably for the rest of their lives. That childless citizen who you minimize may have been paying taxes for decades.

    You are a visitor. You pay taxes for a year or two, and you’re planning to go home to Europe and possibly take your kids with you. In 5 years none of you may be here but the decisions the school-board makes will matter for decades. We citizens care about the future. Short-term visitors care only about the present.

    Do you want to vote? Renounce your German citizenship and become a US citizen. If you’re not willing to commit to a future in this country, you don’t get the privilege of making decisions about the future in this country.

  • This is insanity. If you have a kid in SFUSD, you should get to vote for SFUSD. We have a bigger problem with US Citizen “tourist residents”—young college grads living here for a couple years and aren’t invested in SF long term, just looking for a short-term adventure before starting their “adult life” somewhere else. But because these residents are citizens, no one takes away their right to cast a (uninformed, low-stakes for them) vote. Every “immigrant family” I’ve met at our school cares SO much about their child’s education. The least we can do is let them have a say in who decides what that looks like.
    Once again, Orange County can’t keep its nose outta SF (looking at you, Howard Jarvis). How did they even have standing to bring this case???

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