CONTEMPORARY MOVEMENTS IN MARYLAND
Six municipalities in Maryland permit resident voting in local elections, including Takoma Park, Barnesville, Martin’s Additions, Somerset, Garrett Park, and Chevy Chase section 3.
The Case of Takoma Park
Advocates of allowing noncitizen immigrants to vote successfully placed a non-binding referendum on the ballot, which was voted on by the citizens of Takoma Park in November 1991, asking if resident noncitizens should be allowed to vote in local elections. The referendum was meant to gauge the sentiments of the voters in Takoma Park. This “advisory” referendum passed by 92 votes (out of just under three thousand cast).
During the following several months, two public hearings were held by the City Council to solicit commentary and to debate the issue. While debate was often heated, ultimately the City Council voted to amend Takoma Park’s Charter to allow noncitizens (both documented and undocumented immigrants) to vote in local elections on February 10, 1992.
But opponents sought to block the law, as well as to reverse similar laws in four other Maryland cities and towns, by getting the State Legislature to change the state law that allows localities to define citizenship and permit noncitizen voting. Opponents found a sympathetic legislator to introduce a measure (HB 665), Delegate Morgan, who proposed the bill before Takoma Park passed its law. But HB 665 was defeated on March 17, 1992.
Similarly, opponents sought to reverse the Charter change at the local level by trying to place a referendum on the ballot. But they failed to obtain the necessary number of petition signatures (only 468 out of the required 1,417).
Thus, the Takoma Park law took effect on March 31, 1992. In practice, Takoma Park’s noncitizens have exercised their voting rights in local elections although immigrant voters are relatively small in number (several hundred are registered to vote but fewer actually vote) compared to U.S. citizen voters (several thousand are registered and one to two thousand actually turnout). Over the past four municipal elections (1995, 1997, 1999, 2001) noncitizen immigrants tend to vote at lower rates than U.S. citizens on average. Variation, however, exists between certain “wards.” (There are six wards in Takoma Park.) In some wards, immigrants and citizens vote at comparable rates (as a percentage of registered votes).
For example, in Ward Two, 22% of the registered U.S. citizens turned out to vote compared with 21% of the registered noncitizen voters in the 2001 municipal elections; in the 1997 elections, noncitizen immigrants voted at higher rates compared to U.S. citizen voters in three of the six wards. However, in 1999 immigrants voted at lower rates than in all six wards.
Theoretically, immigrants can help determine electoral outcomes, particularly in close contests. Administratively, Maryland’s election administrators keep two separate lists: one for both citizens and noncitizen voters to vote in local elections; and a separate list for citizens to vote in state and national elections.
Election administrators have developed two types of voter registration forms and use them to draw up the two different lists. For local elections-where both citizens and noncitizens vote-the clerks merge the two lists. In this way, the only people who know citizens from noncitizen voters are the election clerks. From the vantage point of an observer all voters look the same. After a local election, however, noncitizen voter cards are removed from the voter lists and kept separately. Only citizens will appear on the voter lists for elections of state and federal offices.
Election Law Article, Annotated Code of Maryland. Regulations: Code of Maryland Regulations (COMAR), Title 33.
Click HERE for the history of noncitizen residents voting in Maryland.
Noelle Barton. “Alien Voting Issue Dominates Charter Review Forum.” Gazette.net (Maryland). September 25, 2002.
Stephanie Griffith. “Hispanics Seek Wider Clout in D.C. and Va.: Takoma Park Referendum on Voting Eligibility Spurs Immigrants’ Interest,” The Washington Post, Nov. 7, 1991, at D06.
Jamin B. Raskin, “Their Chance to Vote,” The Washington Post, Oct. 13, 1991, at C8.
“Takoma Park Asks Whether to Give Noncitizens Say,” Baltimore Sun, Oct. 27, 1991, at 5B.