Hyattsville councilman wants to extend voting rights to non-citizens
Councilman wants legal residents to be able to participate in municipal elections
A Hyattsville official wants to extend municipal voting rights to non-citizen residents, a move he hopes will help integrate the city's Hispanic population.
"Immigrants ... are making great contributions to this country," said City Councilman Carlos Lizanne (Ward 4). "They pay taxes like everybody else."
The measure would only apply to legal residents, and would not allow them to vote in state or federal elections, said Lizanne, who came to the U.S. from El Salvador more than 40 years ago. Voting rights would be an incentive for non-citizens to take an active role in the community, he said.
Data from the 2000 U.S. Census estimates the percentage of foreign-born residents living in Hyattsville at 24.5 percent.
"I know a lot of Hispanics who are permanent residents," he said. "We should have the right to say, I want this person to represent me. ... I want to know where my money will go.'"
A similar measure has been in effect in Takoma Park since 1993, but the non-citizen turnout in subsequent elections has always been low, said Takoma Park City Clerk Jessie Carpenter.
Voter turnout among the 461 non-citizens registered for the city's 2007 elections was just 2 percent, compared to the 10 percent turnout for citizen voters, according to city election records.
Hyattsville Mayor William Gardiner said while offering non-citizen voting rights could increase voter turnout and participation, the overall effect may be negligible.
"When you look at Takoma Park's experience, it seems that a very small number of people actually take advantage of it," Gardiner said.
Lizanne acknowledged the low turnout in Takoma Park, but said that small, incremental increases in Hyattsville would still be progress. "Little by little, we'll start to create a new mentality," he said.
And Lizanne's feelings about the contributions made by working, legal immigrants ring true for some Hyattsville residents.
"If someone paid taxes, they should be able to make decisions," said resident Tim Shiaris.
Some on the council feel that the ability to vote should come only with citizenship.
"Voting rights are very important to people," said Councilman Douglas Dudrow (Ward 1).
Those who aren't citizens or aren't petitioning for citizenship shouldn't be able to vote, he said.
"But it is worth discussing the pros and cons," Dudrow said.