COLLEGE PARK – After four long hours in an over-packed room in College Park, the College Park City Council finally came to a decision for Charter Resolution 17-CR-02, which would allow non-citizens to vote in city elections and authorize a supplemental voter list.
After a 4-3-1 vote, the verdict was “yes” in favor of passing 17-CR-02. However, city officials announced on Friday- three days after Tuesday's split vote- that the measure did not pass after all.
According to city officials, changes made to the city charter in June require six or more "yes" votes for any measure amending the city's charter. Therefore, the 4-3-1 vote was not sufficient to pass 17-CR-02.
The council will resume discussion of the issue at a Sept. 19 worksession.
Discussion was passionate during the Tuesday night vote.
The night started off slowly as College Park residents began to file in one by one, filling the room by the start of the 7:30 p.m. meeting. Some looked happy, others fearful while some showed no emotion at all. And while they may have had different expressions, there was one thing they all had in common: anxiety for the big decision that was to come later in the night.
Around 8 p.m., action item 17-CR-02 was announced. The room was overcome with silence as all eyes focused on the council members. The original motion was to not let the public speak on the matter, however, councilmember Fazlul Kabir motioned that the decision was for the city and that the residents’ voices should be heard. That motion was seconded and more than 40 residents lined up to share their opinions for roughly two hours.
With a lot of different opinions in the room, the tension was through the roof as people did not hold back on how they felt.
“There needs to be more discussion,” resident Emily Weant said. Weant was the center of attention throughout the meeting as she continuously held up a huge sign that read, “NO NON-CITIZEN VOTING." “I know some of my neighbors didn’t even know about this.
“There is a variety of opinions. I think this is a violation of federal law. I think it should come to a vote on the ballot. This should not be something decided by council members because they like it.”
The city of College Park maintains that federal law only prohibits non-citizens from voting in federal elections and not in municipal ones.
Residents were not the only ones to express their feelings.
“I have asked twice about when we are going to discuss this topic and I have not got a good response,” Councilmember Mary Cook said. “We haven’t done our job because we still need to do research.”
Councilmember Robert Day, Sr. agreed.
“We have talked about this topic for a total of less than 30 minutes on this stand and that’s being generous,” he said. “We have to be honest with the public about this issue.”
After the statements by Cook, Day and other councilmembers, the council took a vote on whether to vote on 17-CR-02 or postpone it like they did on Aug. 6. The eight councilmembers split the vote, leaving it to Mayor Patrick Wojahn to break the tie. Wojahn did not want to stall the decision anymore and motioned that the final vote be done by the end of the night.
Wojahn allowed residents to speak again before the final vote; however, most of the people that stepped to the podium were the same residents as before.
“I was born in the Dominican Republic and moved to D.C. as a kid,” Scarlet Jimenez said. “We are all in this together. I see signs like, ‘welcome to our neighborhood,’ so let’s really live that out. It’s not like we are giving away a kidney or something.”
Finally, after many residents spoke, the 4-3-1 vote was announced by Wojahn.
Following the announcement, some members of the audience stood up and clapped while others stormed out the room in disgust.
Emily Blackner contributed to this report.