November marks the 30th anniversary of the first non-U.S. residents voting in Takoma Park, city officials announced.
In 1992, the Takoma Park City Council passed a landmark initiative allowing immigrants, regardless of their legal status, to vote in municipal elections. Nearly one-third of Takoma Park’s residents are foreign-born, according to the U.S. Census Bureau.
“Even if it’s only a handful voting in elections—and it’s more than that—it’s a huge step forward for democracy,” said Seth Grimes, co-founder of Takoma Park Mobilization, a volunteer organization that supports local immigrants, among other issues. “Non-citizens have a stake in civic affairs, and everyone should have a voice in who governs them.”
Approximately 20% of Takoma Park’s 347 registered non-citizen voters cast ballots in 2017, according to city data. Overall turnout in 2017 was 22%, according to a news release.
The original idea for non-citizen voting in Takoma Park started as a grassroots effort to give people a voice. Initiated by former Montgomery County Council Member George Leventhal and current U.S. Rep. Jamie Raskin (who taught law at American University at the time), the “Share the Vote” campaign was launched to give non-citizens the right to vote.
“I was serving on a city committee on redistricting at the time,” said Leventhal. “I lived in Ward 5, as we reviewed the numbers it was clear there were so many more registered voters in other wards. Because Ward 5 had so many non-citizens, it had the smallest number of registered voters, even though it had the same number of residents.”
Despite progressive Takoma Park’s progressive leanings, a nonbinding referendum was passed by fewer than 100 votes in 1991. A change to the city’s charter allowed non-citizens to vote in local elections the following year. November 2, 1993, was the first time noncitizens voted in citywide elections.
“It was a new idea for a lot of people and there were anti-immigration activists against it and spreading misinformation that the city would become a welfare state and such, things that never happened,” said Leventhal. “We combated that through an appeal to Takoma Park residents’ generosity and inclusivity.”
As a result of Takoma Park’s initiative, other Maryland municipalities have adopted similar initiatives, including Hyattsville, Mount Rainier, and Riverdale Park. Previously, non-citizens were allowed to vote in some smaller municipalities in Montgomery County, such as Somerset and Barnesville.
“This was one of many steps Takoma Park took to enshrine the values of democratic participation in this town,” Leventhal said. “It’s a statement of Takoma Park’s values of inclusion and participation.”
Takoma Park Mayor Talisha Searcy will issue a proclamation recognizing 30 years of non-citizen voting and 10 years of youth voting on Wednesday, Nov. 1.
Non-citizens are welcome to vote in Takoma Park elections with proof of identity and Takoma Park residency. If you would like to register to vote, please contact the Takoma Park City Clerk at [email protected] or call (301) 891-7214.
Takoma Park Graphic