March 22, 2024

Federal Judge Dismisses Washington D.C.'s noncitizen voting law

A federal judge in Washington, D.C., has dismissed a lawsuit challenging a district law permitting noncitizens to vote in local elections, ruling that the plaintiffs failed to demonstrate a violation of their rights.

In a ruling issued Thursday, Judge Amy Berman Jackson rejected the claims of seven plaintiffs — all U.S. citizens and registered voters in D.C. — who contended that the "Local Resident Voting Rights Amendment Act of 2022" infringed upon their Fifth Amendment rights.

Enacted by the D.C. Council in 2022, the law eliminated the citizenship requirement for participation in municipal elections, granting voting rights exclusively for local, not federal, elections, as outlined in court documents. This encompassed voting for local officials, as well as on local initiatives, referenda, recalls, or charter amendment measures.

The law permitted noncitizen residents to pursue D.C. government positions and serve on the city's Board of Elections, according to court filings. The lawsuit, filed against D.C.'s Board of Elections, alleged that the law "dilutes the vote of every U.S. citizen voter in the District."

Plaintiffs argued that extending suffrage to noncitizens encroached upon their fundamental voting rights and discriminated against U.S. citizens and native-born residents of D.C., thereby violating the "constitutional right to citizen self-government."

The plaintiffs sought an injunction to halt the Board of Elections from registering noncitizens to vote and from tallying votes cast by noncitizens, according to the filing.

Jackson determined that the plaintiffs failed to demonstrate any loss or diminishment resulting from the law. She asserted that while they may object to immigrants' voting rights on policy grounds, their votes would not be devalued or treated differently from those of noncitizens.

She noted that citizens were not losing representation in any legislative body, nor were they subject to discriminatory gerrymandering tactics. According to Jackson, the plaintiffs were merely asserting a broad grievance.

Among the plaintiffs were Stacia Hall, who ran unsuccessfully as a Republican against D.C. Mayor Muriel Bowser (D) in 2022, and Ralph Chittams, a Republican candidate in 2018 for an at-large seat on the city's Council.

The D.C. law drew attention on Capitol Hill, where the House passed two resolutions last year disapproving of the bill and its criminal code. This was part of an effort to prevent D.C. from enforcing the measures, a power Congress holds under the D.C. Home Rule Act.

The resolutions were not voted on in the Senate within the 30-day timeframe, allowing the bill to become law.

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