Column: Is it time to let noncitizens vote in local elections? Some Americans think that’s just nutty

Even at the municipal level questionable, particularly in Canada with reasonable and not excessive requirements. And it still raises issues regarding minimum residency and other requirements:

Should noncitizens be allowed to vote?

That sounds a little crazy, doesn’t it? Weren’t we taught growing up that the right to vote belongs only to full-fledged, passport-eligible citizens of this country?

Nonetheless, the movement to expand immigrants’ voting rights is gaining ground.

We pay taxes, immigrants say. We run businesses. We send kids to public schools, drive the roads, ride the subways and fight in America’s wars. We are stakeholders in our communities and shouldn’t be excluded from the decision-making process that affects us.

There’s currently a bill before the New York City Council to let legal permanent residents vote in municipal elections — up to and including mayoral elections. Since 2018, San Francisco has allowed noncitizens to vote in school board elections, regardless of whether they’re in the country legally or not. Chicago allows it for school council elections.

Here in Los Angeles, the L.A. Unified school board authorized a study more than a year ago on how to extend voting rights in school board elections to noncitizen parents, grandparents and caregivers. The study — which would presumably lead to a ballot measure — was delayed by the pandemic but will be revived as school reopens.

There’s no question that noncitizen voting rights is a radical notion. It’s understandably worrisome to those who believe citizenship matters.

And you don’t have to be a xenophobe or a white nationalist or a Trump voter to feel that way.

A few years ago, then-Gov. Jerry Brown, whose liberal credentials are pretty impeccable, vetoed a bill passed by the California Legislature that would have allowed permanent legal residents to serve on juries, saying: “Jury service, like voting, is quintessentially a prerogative and responsibility of citizenship.”

Citizenship is a concept, a construct — but it’s a meaningful one. The idea is that there is a difference between merely living in the U.S. and being a full participant in its democratic self-government. Many people are stakeholders, but citizens are more like shareholders.

Becoming a citizen is a process (unless you’re born here, in which case it’s simple luck). At the end of it — after you’ve waited your time, lived in the U.S., taken a test, paid your fees, pledged your loyalty — you are rewarded for your formal commitment with both rights and responsibilities.

And there’s a value to waiting. The term “assimilation” is out of favor (perhaps because it implies that immigrants must check their differences at the door), but “incorporation” and “integration” are still important — learning the language, understanding the culture, making sure you buy into the rules and values laid out in the Constitution. Shared citizenship is a unifying force.

My mother, who came to America during World War II, went through this process, becoming a citizen seven years after she arrived.

Nevertheless, despite everything I’ve just said, I’ve come around to the idea that we should try noncitizen voting anyway, at least in a limited way on the most local level. The advantages outweigh the disadvantages.

After all, the United States was founded on the promise of “no taxation without representation” — yet there are some 25 million people living in the country, more than half of them legally, who are unable to participate in the elections that affect their lives and livelihoods. And yes, most of them pay taxes.

When a segment of the population is excluded from the political process, it can lead to discriminatory public policy and mistreatment.

Furthermore, noncitizen voting was widespread in the U.S. at the beginning of the nation’s history; it ended only in the 1920s. It is permitted in 45 countries around the world in local or regional elections, and in some cases, at the national level.

Noncitizen voting in federal elections was barred in 1996, but where it’s been allowed in the U.S. in recent years — in 11 towns in Maryland as well as San Francisco, two cities in Vermont and a few other jurisdictions — the sky hasn’t fallen. In many cases, it has led to greater political engagement and often to “improved outcomes,” says Ron Hayduk, a political science professor at San Francisco State.

Hayduk argues that noncitizen voting on the local level can be seen as part of the process of becoming a citizen, rather than a substitute for it. It undoubtedly fosters a sense of belonging and investment in the community.

It’s all well and good to tell immigrants to wait their turn to vote, but gaining citizenship is caught up in the U.S. immigration system, which is broken and irrational by all accounts, with no fix in sight.

In contrast, a limited experiment in noncitizen voting by the L.A. Unified School District makes sense. After all, the school board cited an estimate that 42% of Southern California’s children have at least one parent who is not a citizen, without a voice in the district’s leadership.

The expansion of the franchise should be narrow. It should be for school board elections only, and it could be restricted to legal permanent residents with children in the system. Let’s try it and see what happens.

Noncitizen voting raises fundamental questions about our country. Who is an American? Who gets to set the rules? What does it mean to run a country “with the consent of the governed”? What are the costs if millions of stakeholders are excluded from decision-making?

This experiment would challenge our assumptions but perhaps make us stronger in the long run.

Source: Column: Is it time to let noncitizens vote in local elections? Some Americans think that’s just nutty

Neutralité religieuse: Montréal et Québec disent non | Le Devoir

Ongoing debates. As in the past, Quebec municipalities where most new Canadians live, have the most concerns regarding the Bill:

Les Villes de Montréal et de Québec ne veulent pas être assujetties au projet de loi sur la neutralité religieuse. Le maire Denis Coderre refuse de se faire dicter ce qu’il doit imposer à ses employés.

La ministre de la Justice, Stéphanie Vallée, a étendu la portée du projet de loi 62 en déposant un amendement à l’ouverture de son étude détaillée mardi.

L’article le plus discuté de cette pièce législative stipule que les services publics doivent être offerts ou reçus à visage découvert. Une disposition controversée qui prévoit tout de même des exceptions, puisqu’une personne peut faire une demande d’accommodement pour un motif religieux.

« Ce n’est pas le gouvernement, quel qu’il soit, qui va nous dire comment vont se vêtir nos employés, comment on va rendre nos services », a affirmé M. Coderre mercredi matin.

La métropole est concernée au premier chef, puisqu’une partie significative de sa population est immigrante. Le maire de Montréal a dit craindre que les nouvelles règles forcent la Ville à refuser des services à certains citoyens : « Quand quelqu’un qui a un niqab arrive avec ses enfants, on va lui dire : “Tu ne rentreras pas dans l’autobus ?” ou bien “On ne te donnera pas les services ?” »

L’amendement prévoit en effet que la « neutralité religieuse » doit s’étendre aux élus municipaux et aux employés des villes, ainsi qu’aux travailleurs, visiteurs ou utilisateurs des musées et des transports en commun.

Mardi, la ministre Vallée n’avait pas voulu « analyser chaque cas d’espèce ». La mise sur pied d’un comité de travail regroupant représentants du milieu de la santé, de l’éducation et des municipalités est prévue entre l’adoption de la loi et son entrée en vigueur.

Plusieurs aspects demeurent en effet « nébuleux », a quant à elle affirmé la mairesse de Longueuil, Caroline St-Hilaire.

Invitée à commenter l’assujettissement au projet de loi 62, Mme St-Hilaire a dit ne pas être en mesure d’en « cerner tous les tenants et les aboutissants », même s’il apparaît qu’il aura « des impacts significatifs sur nos institutions ».

D’accord sur certains aspects

Sur le fond de la question, le maire Coderre a réitéré qu’il est d’accord avec l’obligation pour les employés de l’État de fournir des services à visage découvert.

Quant à la Ville de Québec, elle répète qu’elle a fait connaître son désaccord sur la question de l’assujettissement à la loi. Dans une lettre adressée à la ministre Vallée en novembre 2016, le maire Régis Labeaume écrivait qu’il refuse « que l’on refile la patate chaude aux municipalités en leur demandant de faire respecter des règles qui s’avèrent inapplicables ».

L’Union des municipalités du Québec (UMQ) compte remettre ce dossier à l’ordre du jour de la prochaine réunion de son conseil d’administration. L’UMQ n’avait pas participé à la commission parlementaire l’automne dernier, préférant ne pas prendre position et s’en remettre à ses membres.

La Ville de Québec déplore en outre le fait de n’avoir été consultée qu’après la rédaction du projet de loi, de ne pas avoir pu participer à son élaboration.

Le cabinet de la ministre de la Justice affirme cependant que plusieurs échanges avec Québec et Montréal ont eu lieu, notamment des conversations entre Mme Vallée, M. Labeaume et M. Coderre.

L’amendement au projet de loi 62 a été adopté à l’unanimité par les parlementaires mardi lors de l’étude détaillée.

Source: Neutralité religieuse: Montréal et Québec disent non | Le Devoir

Brampton council says no to electoral reform despite ethnic mismatch with residents | Toronto Star

The gap between representation at the municipal level and other levels of government has been an issue for some time (all federal MPs and provincial MPPs from Brampton are Indo Canadians, over reflecting their share of the population and the first-past-the-post system).

Ranked balloting may be part of the solution but there are likely other factors involved, including the lack of political parties at the municipal level:

On Wednesday — as a federal debate on the issue draws near and with new Ontario legislation that gives cities the option of ranked balloting — Brampton council voted 11-0 against the idea. Meanwhile, Canada’s first-past-the-post electoral method is being used by fewer and fewer democratic nations around the world because it’s recognized as a system that too often puts people in power despite their having little voter support.

“Each city councillor in Brampton has the support, on average, of less than 4 per cent of the city’s voters, yet they’re making decisions that affect the entire city,” says Pat McGrail, chair of Fair Vote Peel, who made a presentation to council Wednesday, advocating for a ranked ballot system whereby candidates would need the support of a majority to get elected.

Brampton councillors who responded to the Star said they voted against ranked balloting because voters might find the system too confusing. It works by allowing voters to rank at least three top candidates (cities can opt to allow more candidates to be ranked on each ballot). The candidate who receives the least first place votes is eliminated in each round and their votes are redistributed until one candidate has a majority.

But critics point to research that shows the current first-past-the-post system often leads to municipal councils that do not accurately reflect the ethnic diversity of cities. In Brampton close to 70 per cent of the city’s residents are visible minorities. Only one out of eleven members of city council is a visible minority.

“That’s not just a Brampton problem,” says Dave Meslin, an expert on the subject who is authoring a book on electoral reform and has helped with the federal government’s current public consultations on the issue being conducted in every riding across Canada. He says Canada is now alone in its use of first-past-the-post for every level of government. “The lack of diverse representation on municipal councils is a glaring problem across Ontario.”

He points to U.S. research that shows ranked balloting in cities has significantly improved representation that more accurately reflects the electorate. Vote splitting, where an incumbent can rely on a concentrated base of supporters, while a number of other candidates fight for the remaining voters — often the vast majority — is something that can’t happen with ranked balloting, Meslin says.

In the 2014 municipal election, of all winners, Brampton Coun. Martin Medeiros received the least number of votes — 4,188, or 22 per cent of the votes cast in his ward. He beat Shan Gill by 100 votes. There were 15 candidates in total who ran for the council seat Medeiros now occupies. With a city-wide turnout of 36 per cent of eligible voters, applying the same rate, Medeiros received the support of about 7 per cent of eligible voters in his ward.

He did not respond when asked to comment on his decision not to support ranked balloting.

The provincial government was asked if its new legislation under Bill 181, which gives cities the option of using ranked balloting for elections, falls short because it leaves the ultimate decision to the very politicians who might get defeated by the new system.

“We feel that municipalities are responsible levels of government and are in the best position to make decisions in the best interest of their communities,” said Ministry of Municipal Affairs spokesperson Conrad Spezowka.

McGrail says low voter turnout is another problem with first-past-the-post. “The central problem of first-past-the-post is divide and conquer while appealing to your base. People become so disenfranchised they don’t even bother to vote.”

Sukhjot Naroo, a Brampton resident and co-founder of the social network Brampton Beats, which has almost 4,000 members who focus on municipal issues, says he doubts Brampton council will accurately reflect the city’s population as long as vote splitting continues. He lists an increasing number of issues accompanying Brampton’s rapid demographic shift, from zoning for places of worship to funding for a variety of culturally specific activities, that don’t get proper representation on council.

“Everyone on council will benefit from vote-splitting. The incumbents don’t want change. They’re just trying to protect the status quo. Out of eleven votes, not one even considered ranked balloting. Not even Gurpreet Dhillon, the only South Asian member of council, because he now has his base of supporters and can grow that through his growing political connections.”

Dhillon did not respond to questions emailed to him.

Toronto’s Katherine Skene says she’s dismayed, but not surprised by Brampton’s 11-0 vote. “I would hope that councils, before voting on the issue, there would be broad public consultation to find out what the voters actually want.”

Skene is co-chair of the Ranked Ballot Initiative of Toronto, where councillors last year voted 25-18 against a provincial option to allow for ranked balloting, a reversal of that council’s earlier position to bring ranked ballots about. Mayor John Tory supported the idea during his election campaign and maintained his support in last year’s vote.

Source: Brampton council says no to electoral reform despite ethnic mismatch with residents | Toronto Star