At the Jan. 4 Hyattsville City Council meeting, councilmembers discussed a motion that would direct the city attorney to draw up a charter amendment concerning the qualifications of voters in municipal elections. The council is likely to pass the motion, which was submitted jointly by Council President Edouard Haba (Ward 4), Council Vice President Bart Lawrence, and Councilmembers Patrick Paschall (Ward 3) and Joseph Solomon (Ward 5). The biggest change proposed by this new legislation would allow non-U.S. citizens — even undocumented residents — to vote in municipal elections. According to a city memo, Maryland ended non-citizen voting rights in 1851, but left it up to municipalities to decide local voting rights. Six Maryland cities currently allow non-citizens to vote: Takoma Park, Barnesville, Garrett Park, Glen Echo, Martin’s Additions and Somerset.
Most councilmembers supported the issue. “I think — just like I thought with 16- and 17-year-olds who are paying taxes and driving on our roads — they should have the right to engage in our city elections,” Paschall said.
Solomon said he thinks extending voting rights in city elections is something wanted and needed. “I think it’s the right thing to do to bring them into the fold, because it’s a part of the city that is clearly present and are eager to participate,” he said.
Lawrence said when he campaigned, he spoke with many resident foreign nationals who could not vote, but he felt they should be able to vote in city elections. “They face a great deal of challenges,” he said. “It seemed to me that lifting just a little bit of the alienation … that it might just create a little better life for those people.”