DC Council Advances Alien Voting Bill
FAIR Take | October 2022
The Washington DC city council took the first of two votes to give voting rights in local elections to foreign nationals, including illegal aliens.
The Constitution dictates that the District of Columbia because it is the seat of government be under Congress’ authority. Article 1 of the Constitution authorizes Congress to exert total legislative authority over Washington, DC. Over time, Congress has ceded its authority over to local control. However, under the Home Rule Act, Congress did retain the ability to block DC bills by passing a joint resolution that is approved by the president within 30 days of the DC mayor adopting them.
When Congress passed the DC Home Rule Act in 1973, it specified that only American citizens in DC could vote in elections for federal office. However, Congress did not specifically limit voting to American citizens when it came to DC’s local offices. Section 1-1001.02(2) of the DC Code currently defines a “qualified elector” for purposes of voting in DC elections as a US citizen over 18 who has resided in DC for at least 30 days and does not claim voting residence or the right to vote in any state or other territory. However, there is nothing to prohibit the DC Council from amending this definition.
DC Bill (B) 24-0300, introduced on June 9, 2021, by Councilmember Brianne Nadeau (D-Ward 1) and cosponsored by six other councilmembers, changes the definition of qualified elector to no longer require American citizenship to vote for DC’s local offices and local ballot questions. As introduced, the bill expanded the eligibility to vote only to legal permanent residents (“green card” holders). However, when the bill was voted out of the council’s Committee on Judiciary and Public Safety on September 27, 2022, it had been amended to allow anyone, regardless of immigration status, to be eligible to vote for DC local offices and ballot questions if they’re over 18 and have lived in DC for more than 30 days.
DC’s expanded voting rights bill is even more extreme than the one passed in New York City which has been enjoined by a state trial court but pending the city’s appeal. The New York voting bill requires prospective alien voters to have legal authorization to work in the US and to reside in the city for 60 days.
The council voted 12-1 in favor of the bill on first reading greenlighting it for a final vote. The lone vote in opposition was cast by Councilmember Mary Cheh (D-Ward 3) who objected stating that the 30-day residency requirement was not enough in light of illegal aliens being bused from the border. Councilmember Cheh said, “I find it unacceptable to say that somebody who has had no connection at all with the United States, with its culture, its democracy, can be dropped off here, reside for 30 days, and vote in a local election. What is wrong with asking they stay a little bit longer?”
B 24-0300 could be considered at the council’s next legislative session on November 4. So far, however, no bills have been calendared for that date.
Mayor Muriel Bowser (D) has not taken a position on B 24-0300, which was noted in the council’s committee report. In the past, Mayor Bowser supported strengthening DC’s sanctuary policies but recently she has condemned illegal aliens being bused to DC and declared a state of emergency for the district. Her position therefore may align with Councilmember Cheh’s. If the mayor vetoed the bill, a vote by two-thirds of the council (9 out of 13) would be required to override her veto. If there is a veto, it is not clear that councilmembers, even those who voted for the bill, would vote to override the veto. Moreover, if Council President Phil Mendelson (D) sided with Bowser, it’s possible an override vote wouldn’t be scheduled since he controls the council’s calendar.
If Bowser signs the bill, allows it to become law without her signature, or has her veto overridden, it doesn’t automatically become law. Under the Home Rule Act, Congress has thirty days to pass a joint resolution to block any legislation DC passes. Such a joint resolution if passed is itself subject to a possible veto by the President. It is unlikely that the current Congress would pass such a resolution.
It is likely that if the DC voting bill is enacted, its fate would be similar to New York City’s and it would most likely face court challenges.