Silver Chips Online

Every voice deserves a vote

By
November 11, 2010
This article was written by the Silver Chips Print Editorial Board and is intended to represent the official views of the newspaper.

Every year on the first Tuesday in November, a small number of Blazers have the opportunity to contribute to their local governments for the first time. While some of the students at Blair who are 18 or older could have voted in the Nov. 2 elections, another sizable portion of them could not. These students have all of the same responsibilities as their voting peers. They reside in this country and this county legally, attend the same schools with the same teachers, and learn the same information about the United States' political system in government class. The only difference: They are non-citizen residents of Montgomery County.

A legal permanent resident, or a resident alien, is a person who lives legally in the United States but is not a citizen. It is illegal for resident aliens to vote in national or state elections, but individual municipalities can decide whether to let them vote in local elections. Recently, the debate has intensified across the nation. In the Nov. 2 election, the question of non-citizen voting rights was on the ballots in Portland, Maine and in San Francisco. Though both referenda were defeated, it was only by a small margin. As the nation begins to consider non-citizen voting, this unrepresented demographic comes closer to gaining their rightful voice.

Legal residents can already vote in the local elections of six cities in Maryland: Takoma Park, Garrett Park, Somerset, Chevy Chase, Martin's Additions and Barnesville. Maryland is one of two states with municipalities that allow non-citizen voting (non-citizens can also vote in Chicago elections). Recently, Hyattsville City Councilmember Carlos Lizanne (Ward 4) discussed extending voting rights to non-citizens in the city.

This move would open up voting rights for the first time to huge percentage of the city's population - according to the 2000 U.S. Census, Hyattsville has a 24.5 percent foreign-born population. If Hyattsville follows the other six cities and extends voting rights to non-citizens, municipal election results would better represent the entire city's interests. Hyattsville is by no means the only local city that would benefit from this change, though. Montgomery County has a 26.7 percent foreign-born population, but only select areas of the county have opened up voting rights to non-citizens. Other cities should consider following in their footsteps.

Even though not all of these foreign-born residents are legal residents, those who are still comprise a substantial percentage of the county's population. Despite their undeniable presence in the community, without the right to vote, they lack the influence they deserve. Opponents argue that if residents want a say in their community, they should become citizens. Citizenship must be earned, they say, and voting is a special privilege reserved for those who merit it. But legal residents are earning the right to vote they have the same responsibilities as citizens. Legal residents must pay the same taxes on their income as citizens. Without the right to vote, they have no influence on how that money is spent.

Reluctance to obtain citizenship is not laziness nor a lack of patriotism. For legal residents from many countries, it is difficult to retain citizenship of their home country after obtaining U.S. citizenship. Montgomery County should not force residents to chose between a connection to their home country and the right to participate in their adopted community. Moreover, residents can be knowledgeable about and invested in local politics without being U.S. citizens. Voting should be a reserved privilege - a privilege for informed, active tax-payers. As more and more legal residents continue to change the composition of Montgomery County, it becomes not only ideal but necessary that they secure a voice.

http://silverchips.mbhs.edu/story/10444