30 Years of Non-Citizen Voting in Takoma Park
November marks the 30th anniversary of the first non-U.S. residents voting in Takoma Park.
The landmark initiative first passed by the Takoma Park City Council in 1992 gave immigrants—regardless of their legal status—the right to vote in municipal elections. In Takoma Park, nearly one-third of the residents are foreign-born, according to the U.S. Census Bureau.
“Even if it’s only a handful voting in elections—and it’s more than that—it’s a huge step forward for democracy,” said Seth Grimes, co-founder of Takoma Park Mobilization a volunteer organization that
supports local immigrants, among other issues. “Non-citizens have a stake in civic affairs, and everyone should have a voice in who governs them.”
According to the latest city data from 2017, of the 347 registered non-citizen voters in Takoma Park, 72 cast ballots, making up roughly 20% of those registered. Overall turnout in 2017 was 22%.The original idea for non-citizen voting in Takoma Park started as a grassroots effort to give a voice to those who didn’t have one before. Spearheaded by former Montgomery County Council Member George Leventhal and current U.S. Rep. Jamie Raskin (who was a law professor at American University at the time), the “Share the Vote” campaign was launched to get non-citizens the right to vote.
“I was serving on a city committee on redistricting at the time,” said Leventhal. “I lived in Ward 5, as we reviewed the numbers it was clear there were so many more registered voters in other wards. Because Ward 5 had so many non-citizens, it had the smallest number of registered voters, even though it had the same number of residents.”
The topic was divisive—even for progressive-leaning Takoma Park-and a nonbinding referendum was passed in 1991 by fewer than 100 votes. The next year, the City Council approved a change to the city’s charter allowing non-citizens to vote in local elections. The first citywide elections where non-citizens voted took place on Nov. 2, 1993.
“It was a new idea for a lot of people and there were anti immigration activists against it and spreading misinformation that the city would become a welfare state and such, things that never happened,” said Leventhal. “We combated that through an appeal to Takoma Park residents’ generosity and inclusivity.”
Since Takoma Park allowed non-citizens to vote, municipalities in Maryland—including Hyattsville, Mount Rainier and Riverdale Park—have adopted similar initiatives. Some smaller municipalities in Montgomery County—including Somerset and Barnesville—had previously allowed non-citizens to vote.
“This was one of many steps Takoma Park took to enshrine the values of democratic participation in this town,” Leventhal said. “It’s a statement of Takoma Park’s values of inclusion and participation.”
In March of this year, the D.C. Council passed a bill to allow non citizens to vote in local races over the objections of Congressional Republicans.
The Mayor will issue a proclamation on Wednesday, Nov. 1, recognizing the 30th anniversary of non-citizen voting and the 10th anniversary of youth voting in Takoma Park.
To vote in Takoma Park elections as a non-citizen, all you need is proof of identification and Takoma Park residency. To register to vote, contact the City Clerk at firstname.lastname@example.org or call 301-891-7214.