Dec 22, 2021 - News

Minneapolis council member-elect seeks voting rights for noncitizens

Three voters cast ballots in the gymnasium of an elementary school in Minneapolis.

Voters cast ballots at the Kenny Elementary School in Minneapolis on Nov. 2. Photo: Christian Monterrosa via AP

An incoming city council member wants to bring New York City's recent move to allow noncitizens to vote in municipal elections to Minneapolis.

Driving the news: Council member-elect Jason Chavez told Axios he's in the "beginning steps" of exploring local legislation on the matter.

  • He hopes to introduce a measure after the new council is sworn in next year.

The big picture: While it's illegal for noncitizens to vote in federal elections, U.S. law doesn't address state and local races.

  • A growing number of cities and towns, ranging from San Francisco to Montpelier, Vermont, have enacted measures in recents years to expand voting eligibility in at least some municipal races.
  • Takoma Park, Maryland, has allowed the practice since the 1990s.

Yes, but: Minnesota's state constitution and elections laws define voters as citizens.

  • That means a change in statute — or even a constitutional amendment — would likely be needed in order for the city to enact such a change.

Of note: New York's measure applies to lawful permanent residents and immigrants authorized to work to vote if they have lived in the city for at least 30 days.

  • Chavez said he would like to go even farther if possible, extending rights to undocumented immigrants.

By the numbers: Minneapolis is home to about 30,000 noncitizen immigrants ages 16 and older, per U.S. Census data.

What he's saying: Chavez said he'll consult with local experts and review any lawsuits filed in New York to see if he can craft language that would be effective here.

  • He argues the change would give more voice and political power to immigrants, including many of his constituents in South Minneapolis' diverse Ward 9.
  • "When people don't vote, some officials or politicians don't take their voices seriously," he said. "This would push people to listen to immigrants, whether they're citizens or not … because they're real and they're part of Minneapolis."

Meanwhile, Mayor Jacob Frey said while he believes current state law prohibits the change, he would welcome a discussion and review of relevant data regarding the proposal with election experts and immigrant rights advocates.

What to watch: The push would likely face political and legal pushback, even if it wins support from the council.


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