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San Francisco Implements Non-Citizen Voting

Proposition N, a bill that allows non-citizens to vote in San Francisco school board elections, has faced a tumultuous path. It took several years to approve and was even vetoed at one point. But now, the controversial bill looks like it's here to stay. Will this bill help parents stay involved in their kids' schooling, or will it invite undue influence on the future of schools?



Illustrated by Aleena Gao

Written by Yash Sunkesula and Irene Wang

Edited by Catherine Qin


Proposition N, which would allow non-citizen parents to vote in school board elections, was once again addressed in September 2023.  While non-citizen voting can help many people obtain new rights (better representation, social laws, fluidity within the government), there is also a potential risk of complications arising from this matter and local elections.


San Franciscans had been attempting to allow non-citizens to vote on the school board for a long time. In 2010, Proposition D was placed on the ballot, proposing noncitizens to have the right to vote in local school board elections. Proposition D, in particular, would establish a pilot program from 2012 to 2016 that would allow any San Francisco resident whose child was enrolled in a San Francisco public school to vote in the San Francisco Board of Education elections. At that time, the San Francisco Unified School District reported that 28 percent of its 56,000 students were ESL students, meaning they were learning English as a second language. Based on this, most ESL students would have more than one non-citizen parent or guardian. The proposition would allow an additional 20,000 or more people to vote in school board elections. However, similar to Proposition F (2004), which had similar goals, Proposition D was rejected. The measure lost 54 to 46 percent since it sparked a debate over immigration safety. Many of the representatives were willing to pass the proposition, but they did not include or mention it in their campaign plans. This caused citizens who were willing to support the proposition to be unaware of it until it was rejected before. Since the proposition was not widely spread, people did not know enough to be able to fully advocate for it to be passed.


In 2016, Proposition N was proposed and passed that November. The proposition entails the same objects as its predecessors. There are three requirements to be eligible to vote: the voter must be 18 and older, and they must be a resident of San Francisco and not move before the election date. Voters also have to be the parent/guardian of a child currently enrolled within the school system.  If they met these requirements and the outcome of the election did not directly impact them, they could not vote in it. Proposition N went into effect in 2017 and was valid for the next five years, until 2022. Then, the Board of Supervisors will have the authority to decide whether noncitizens continue to have the right to vote for the Board of Education. 


In July 2022, a judge struck down Proposition N and vetoed non-citizen school board election voting in both San Francisco and Oakland. A conservative group of voters threatened to take legal action, stating that if the decision was not repealed, they would take the case to the Supreme Court. On August 3rd, the California Court of Appeal overruled the decision, because the proposition did not violate the California Constitution. 


San Francisco is not the only city that has allowed noncitizen voting in school board elections. Besides Proposition N, there were also other non-citizen programs implemented in different areas, including Oakland’s Measure S and a New York City act to allow voting in communities. The Los Angeles School District also conducted a study regarding education equality. Each program included similarities and differences compared to Proposition N, but they all worked to allow non-citizen voting. Voting was specifically allowed in school districts, attempting to allow all parents to choose the school representatives. Oakland’s Measure S was brought up in 2022, after San Francisco’s Proposition N. It was similar to Proposition N in that both propositions worked to help undocumented residents in America vote for school board members. It was questioned by some who debated if it was against the law if the measure was taken. 


Other than Proposition N and Measure S, an LA school district’s study aimed to work toward equality for the educational community. Many parents around the district were not officially integrated citizens of the country. The district wanted to observe how rights would be expanded if the parents were allowed to vote for their children’s learning. The study, which was first introduced in 2019 and further expanded on after San Francisco’s non-citizen voting was passed, involved a group of people who observed the impact of voting for all citizens on the schools in the city. They would decide the final results of the study after 180 days. Since many people living in California were immigrants, the LA school districts wanted to conduct the study to confirm the importance of non-citizen voting based on collected data. 


Advocates for the success of the study included many members of the school board, as well as citizens living in the city. These supporters researched the effects of parent involvement in student education, reaching a positive outcome and working towards allowing non-citizens to vote. As influential supporters grew, the study’s results were eventually successful—marking a victory for many non-citizens in LA. 


New York City also had a similar proposition to the ones discussed, but it was not as successful long term. The law was passed around the 2000s, expanding non-citizen voting from only school boards to local elections. It lasted until 2022 when it was rejected and struck down by Judge Ralph. J Porzio. Porzio, being a member of the NYC Council, denied the continuation of the law in June of 2022. Porzio argued that the proposition “conflicted with constitutional guidelines and state law.” Although many different non-citizen propositions were approved by the city leaders, some areas have stronger systems of protest. These groups of protesters make it more difficult for propositions regarding non-citizens to be passed. These are partly due to political issues surrounding the various parties and groups. New propositions open up new chances for non-citizens, but also some problems within the political category in America.


Proposition N is especially important in areas like San Francisco. With San Francisco being a primarily immigrant-based community, not everyone who lives there is a citizen. In the long term, however, the immigrants who live in the US still have children who need to go to school. Having non-citizen voting would help them achieve proper representation within the school board. America is a massive melting pot of cultures, and they should have a platform to voice their opinion, such as voting.  Immigrant families also don’t always have a sense of security.  With non-citizen voting, they would have proper representation in local elections, and they can choose who represents them.


Non-citizen voting could open up many opportunities, including being able to enhance many aspects of the country, as well as better immigration policies. Proposition N specifically allows voting for school boards. Considering that the proposition is successful, more non-citizen voting policies could follow, which may eventually lead to full-scale voting rights for those who are not official citizens. Even if that does not occur, allowing non-citizens to vote for school representatives could help many parents involve themselves in assisting their children with their education. 


Non-citizen voting was previously widespread in America until the 1920s, with the system being a crucial part of American history. Immigration has been integral in the development of America’s diversity, and this was only possible if immigrants were previously allowed to vote. Despite the benefits that non-citizen voting added to the country, many American-born citizens saw those granted rights as unfair. Supporters of the Proposition argue that non-citizen voting has many fundamental benefits and could become a significant addition to the United States.


However, there are downsides to non-citizen voting as well. Within the school board, there could be people with no interest in the American school system who could vote for our elected officials. On a larger scale, non-citizens could vote for our police force, our elected candidates, and our propositions. Non-citizen voting is viewed as unfair because it allows non-citizens to make significant decisions that could impact permanent residents within the US. Due to the widespread debates, allowing non-citizens to vote could be a national security risk. 14% of non-citizens are registered to vote, which the US considers voter fraud. This hinders election results, impacting what kind of leader people get. Being a US citizen is an important part of American society. According to political science Professor Ron Hayduk, “We all share the same interest in having good schools, affordable housing, effective transportation, environmental justice, and so on.” Non-citizen voting could interfere with this sense of community.


Non-citizen voting has been something that people have argued about since the nation was first founded. The arguments listed above have been presented before judges who had agreed and disagreed on the issue. On one side, non-citizen voting would allow every voice to be heard (within the school board and beyond), and on the other hand, it could lead to people who don’t care about the US making some of its decisions. Proposition N will continue to be in place, but the existence of future propositions may depend on who we let vote for them.

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