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Mt. Rainier extends vote to non-citizens

MtRainierCouncilMOUNT RAINIER – Two municipalities in Prince George’s County now allow non-U.S. citizens to vote in municipal elections.

Almost a month after the city of Hyattsville extended the right to vote to non-citizens, the city of Mount Rainier has followed suit during its Jan. 3 meeting.

“If you live here you are a citizen of Mount Rainier no matter where you lived before. We are sending a message of inclusiveness,” said Councilman Jesse Christopherson.

The city’s council voted 3-0 in favor of the charter amendment, with one councilmember and the city’s mayor, Malinda Miles, abstaining from the vote. The new amendment would allow non-U.S citizens residing in the city of Mount Rainier to vote in municipal elections only. The power to make such a decision is granted to municipalities through the Maryland Constitution.

Despite passing the bill, the amendment did not fly through the council’s legislative process without dissent.

Miles had expressed reservations about the amendment at a public hearing and council meeting in December 2016, stating she would rather the city council take a holistic approach to updating the city charter, rather than do so piece by piece.

“The charter is not a piece or document that should just be willy-nilly, you pick what you want fixed and then you work on it but the rest of it you ignore. It is a full piece,” Miles said in December.

Some residents also expressed concern with the rapidness of the passage of the bill, though the council did hold a public hearing on the matter in December.

“I heard from one or two people who thought we were violating the U.S. Constitution. A few others said they were concerned the city had not adequately publicized the proposal,” Christopherson said. “Of course we can always do a little better, but we talked about this amendment at four or five public Council meetings, including a dedicated hearing.”

The non-citizen voting bill specifically amends Article V of the Mount Rainier City Charter where registration, nomination, and election procedures are listed. The amendment now states that all Mount Rainier residents “regardless of their nationality or immigration status” can vote in the city’s elections by registering with the city’s board of elections.

Mount Rainier now joins the likes of Takoma Park, which passed non-citizen voting in 1992, Barnesville, which enacted it in 1918, and Garrett Park, which passed non-citizen suffrage in 1999. In total, Maryland now has seven municipalities where non-citizen residents can vote. 

“I hope and I believe that instead of dividing Mount Rainier along demographic lines this new policy will become a community building tool. Suffrage is a powerful, I'd even say essential, tool to improve one's quality of life,” Christopherson said. “I want to leverage it to increase the civic participation of immigrants who live in our city, to spur a more robust community conversation and greater awareness of issues that have been unjustly obscured. People may get to know their neighbors a little bit better.”

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