Non-citizens will now be able to vote in local elections in the Town of Chevy Chase.
Following two years of discussion and hearings, the Town Council voted unanimously Monday night to give voting rights to adults with green cards, those in the country for diplomatic purposes or those working toward U.S. citizenship.
“One of the reasons I think we were sympathetic was that we heard from non-citizens who have been residents in town for a long time and are eager to participate in democracy,” Mayor Barney Rush said. “We care about having an inclusive community where people who wish to participate in our civic activities are able to do so, and this is one way people can contribute.”
The wealthy town of about 3,000 straddling northwest Washington, D.C., is the 11th municipality in Maryland and eighth in Montgomery County to adopt non-citizen voting rights.
The impact of Chevy Chase’s town charter amendment will likely be minimal, Rush said, with an estimated 30 non-residents in town limits.
To be eligible, new voters must have lived in the town for at least 30 days prior to the election and can’t be felons, “under guardianship for mental disability” or have a conviction for buying or selling votes.
The town will maintain a list of qualified, non-citizen voters, Rush said. The amendment to the town charter goes on to explain Chevy Chase’s elections board will keep the registration list “up-to-date by striking from the lists persons known to have died or to have moved out of the town.”
Non-citizens can’t serve on the Town Council.
Five miles to the east, Takoma Park has been operating with similar guidelines since 1992.
In November 1991, a referendum allowing non-citizens to vote passed by 92 votes before the City Council voted in favor of the resolution in February 1992. The referendum was enacted on March 31, 1992, according to the city’s website.
Takoma Park Mayor Kate Stewart said she believes the system has run smoothly during her tenure and is a manifestation of the town’s core values.
“We’re always wanting to make sure we’re welcoming and inclusive, and that includes making sure all residents have a voice in city activities,” Stewart said Tuesday. “Thinking about where we’re located in the D.C. region, we have people who are living here from all over the world and there are a lot of reasons someone may be a non-citizen living in our community. They should have a say about the things impacting their daily lives.”
Because Takoma Park is a sanctuary city, there is no tracking or data kept about voters’ legal status, but Stewart believes allowing all citizens to participate in civic activities is a major draw for the city of approximately 18,000.
“It’s one thing to talk about being inclusive and welcoming, and it’s another to take action to ensure you’re truly living up to your values,” Stewart said, adding the privilege to vote could entice citizens and non-citizens alike to move to the city.
Since 2012, four Maryland municipalities have followed suit: Chevy Chase Section Three, Hyattsville, Mount Rainier and Riverdale Park.
Other jurisdictions that allow non-resident voting are Barnesville, Garrett Park, Martin’s Additions, Glen Echo and Somerset, according to The Maryland Municipal League.
Amid a heated debate in September 2017, the College Park City Council voted 4-3 to amend its charter to allow non-citizens to vote, and then-members believed the majority vote approved the move. However, it was announced several days later it takes six affirmative votes to pass a charter amendment, thus, the amendment failed.