Noncitizen-voting effort clouded by legal questions

Parents who are not U.S. citizens would be allowed to vote in school board elections if a measure on the November ballot is approved.

Proposition D, which would amend the City Charter, will be decided by San Francisco voters Nov. 2, but it faces opposition from people who say it is illegal.

The amendment is a long time coming and gives a voice to those who have not had one, according to Supervisor David Chiu, the main backer of the proposition.

“One in three children in the school system are from immigrant families,” he said. “This would engage those parents that have no say in some of the most important decisions affecting education.”

Chiu, who chaired the committee to get a similar measure passed in 2004, said this time there is more awareness on the matter. He said there has been an increase in support and understanding during the past few years.

Though he is supportive of the concept, Supervisor Sean Elsbernd voted against putting the measure on the ballot. He said the measure is against state law.

“The state constitution specifically says citizens should be the sole elector,” Elsbernd said.

The effect on the election of allowing noncitizens to vote is unknown. If approved, Chiu said, noncitizens would have to wait until the 2012 school board election to participate. The proposition has a sunset clause of three years. Supervisors would then need to decide on renewing the measure.

Allowing noncitizens to vote, however, has been said to be damaging, according to the Center for Immigration Studies, a nonprofit research center in Washington, D.C.

“In the end, we do immigrants, and this country, no favor — indeed, we likely do damage — by giving in to demands for erasing the distinction between immigrants and citizens,” the center wrote in a 2009 study.

Chiu, though, said allowing noncitizen parents to vote is not a new concept. Chicago, New York and Boulder, Colo., allow noncitizens to vote in some city elections.

Supervisors Michela Alioto-Pier, John Avalos, David Campos, Chris Daly, Bevan Dufty, Eric Mar, Sophie Maxwell and Ross Mirkarimi support the measure.

Elsbernd and Supervisor Carmen Chu voted against putting it on the ballot.

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