Sandra Fewer

via richmondsfblog.com

Update: At the Rules Committee on January 17th, Supervisor Sandra Lee Fewer has continued this proposal until next week, pending amendments.

In 2016, San Francisco voters approved Proposition N, extending the voter franchise to noncitizen parents with children in public schools to vote in Board of Education elections. It was generally regarded as a bipartisan effort to reflect the growing profile of noncitizen stakeholders in San Francisco’s public school system. Now Supervisor and former School Board member Sandra Fewer, citing a desire to protect the rights of those same new voters, wants to put a measure on the ballot that would delay implementation of Prop N until after the coming Board of Education election this November.

Fewer claims the measure would give the Board of Supervisors more time to make Prop N bulletproof; but concerns have arisen that the measure is aimed more at handicapping certain candidates in the upcoming School Board race.

This legislation, which the Board of Supervisors would have to vote on to place on the June 2018 ballot, would eliminate the 2022 sunset clause for reconsideration of Prop N, but would also provide that:

"Noncitizens may not vote in an election for members of the Board of Education unless the Board of Supervisors adopts an ordinance authorizing noncitizens to vote in that election, and that ordinance becomes effective at least 270 days prior to that election."

That 270 day window would essentially block Prop N from taking effect in time for the November 2018 election. 

School board candidate Monica Chinchilla, a Latinx mother, community activist, Commissioner, and former legislative aide, has described Fewer’s measure as "truly disappointing”:

“This proposed measure undermines the vote SF residents made to allow non-citizens to vote. It is disheartening to know that a leader of our city is proposing to eliminate a right that was supported by our residents. Non-citizens work hard to ensure our city runs smoothly, they are an integral part of our society and they were given the opportunity to vote on elections that are critical for their child's education. I am saddened this is happening."

The city's voters approved Prop N in November 2016, having rejected similar measures in 2004 (Prop F) and 2010 (Prop D). Contrary to what might be popular perception, San Francisco is hardly a leader in noncitizen voting. New York City allowed noncitizen voting in school board elections from 1968 all the way until those seats were converted to appointed positions in 2003. Indeed, noncitizen voting is as old as America itself, occasionally coming under attack during the country's wars, and largely rolled back after the First World War. Many municipalities in Maryland returned the franchise to noncitizens from 1992, at least for voting in local elections.

Then Donald Trump happened. 

The fact that the nation suffers under a White House with a transparently racist agenda, presumably steered by a President who ran on, among other things, false claims of voter fraud perpetrated by noncitizens, has created predictable anxiety over being able to preserve noncitizen voting, as well as the safety and security of those noncitizens who decide to engage in the voting process.

At least one local Asian-American leader, David Lee of the Chinese American Voter Education Committee, voiced concerns earlier this year that the new hostile climate under Trump could induce noncitizen parents to “stay under the radar” and not avail themselves of their voting rights, choosing not to opt-in to the voter rolls.

But so far, these fears have yet to become tangible. College Park, the most recent Maryland city to allow for noncitizen voting, recently rescinded their ordinance, but only after finding out that the City Council had made a procedural error during the vote to approve it. Meanwhile, the Trump administration's much-publicized advisory commission on voter fraud has been disbanded, its legitimacy eroded by lawsuits, internal dissension, and perhaps most importantly, due to the fact that states simply refused to turn over their voter data. Federalism has largely been working as intended.

It's in this context that now, more than two years after any dilemma would become apparent, that Supervisor Fewer has decided to delay noncitizen voting. Fewer’s staff reiterated that their motivation was to ensure that the City takes "an abundance of caution" in implementing Prop N so as to protect prospective non-citizen voters:

“I recognize the grassroots effort that was involved in making Prop N a reality in 2016.  In the face of unprecedented attack on immigrants at the national level, this charter amendment is about protecting our immigrant community and non-citizen parents.  It is about being responsible, exploring all options and identifying the best path forward to protect our parents.”

But why the 270 day timeline? We inquired with both the Department of Elections and election law lawyers, but turned up no legal or procedural necessity for such a long window. Even if it were necessary, the measure could have been introduced sooner – especially given that Prop N was passed by the voters two years ago.

The unfortunate timing of the measure has given rise to another possible explanation: that Supervisor Fewer, critics allege, wants to suppress any expected non-citizen vote for certain school board candidates. That concern was brought up at a review of the proposed measure by the Youth Commission last week. Ultimately, the Commission voted to support the measure with the caveat of also recommending parallel legislation, suggested by Chinese for Affirmative Action, to implement Prop N by November 2018. Even though they supported the intent, the advisory body still recommended against a delay that would preclude voting in November.

In San Francisco, a significant number of potential non-citizen voters are Chinese immigrant parents. According to recent American Community Survey data, there are 5,599 non-citizen residents in the City who are under 18 - 3,322 of which are Asian/Pacific Islander.

One candidate expected to benefit from those votes is Josephine Zhao, a former member of the BOE’s Parent Advisory Council who is running in November. Zhao was not happy:

“When Republicans in Washington are attacking immigrants and Dreamers, we need our city’s liberal and progressive Democratic leaders to stand with immigrants, not fight against them. San Francisco voters passed Proposition N in 2016 to extend voting privileges to non-citizens, which is an extremely important form of empowerment for all immigrant communities who are raising children in the city. We need more inclusion, not less.”

The proposed measure will be reviewed by the Board of Supervisors’ Rules Committee today.

Update: Supervisor Fewer moved to continue her proposal until next week's Rules Committee, pending amendments to the legislation.

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