A new bill working its way through the D.C. City Council could make the District one of only a few cities in the country to award legal, non-U.S. citizens the right to vote in municipal elections.

The Local Residents Voting Rights Act, introduced in early December by Councilmember David Grosso (I-At Large) and co-sponsored by Councilmembers Muriel Bowser (D-Ward 4), Tommy Wells (D-Ward 6) and Jim Graham (D-Ward 1), would give the approximately 49,000 age-eligible residents in the District who are foreign born, but not naturalized U.S. citizens, the ability to vote for things like their Advisory Neighborhood Commission representative, District councilmember and the mayor.

According to Grosso, the bill would be strictly limited to local municipal elections and would not expand to the federal level.

“This bill would not, for example, allow non-citizens to vote for Congresswoman Eleanor Holmes Norton (D-D.C.) or for the president. It would only be the local elected offices,” Grosso told THE HOYA.

Currently, there are seven jurisdictions in the U.S. that allow non-citizens to vote in local elections, six of which are located in neighboring Maryland.

Capitalizing on the “taxation without representation” theme popularized in District politics, the bill’s proponents like Councilmember Wells see it as simply an expansion of voting rights to people whose daily lives are affected by representatives they currently cannot vote for.

“D.C. residents know all too well what it means to be denied equal voting rights in the United States,” Wells said. “It goes without question that every resident of D.C. deserves a vote and a voice in our local government. D.C. needs to be a great place for everyone to live, work and raise a family.”

A similar bill was introduced in 2004 to the council but, Grosso said, was ultimately rejected due to the political climate at the time.

“Personally, I think the farther we get away from the disasters that happened in the early 2000s with 9/11, the more our country will recognize that it’s important to embrace other people into our society, including immigrants that are here legally and are residents in our city,” he said.

Wells and Bowser, who are both vying to be the District’s next mayor, emphasized the bill as part of their aim to decrease inequality in the city.

“While we’re fighting for the members of our community through marriage equality, minimum wage increases, better services and more – we can’t pick and choose one group over another,” Bowser wrote in an e-mail to THE HOYA. “It’s time to give our residents who are legal immigrants and have worked hard to contribute to this great city something they’re deserving of: a voice.”

Besides the specifics of the bill, Grosso said he believes it holds importance for the District’s push for more autonomy from the federal government.

“ I know we’re in a unique place and I don’t want to be naive about it, but I’m tired for asking the federal government for permission to do what I think is right,” Grosso said.

President of Hoyas for Immigrant Rights Citlalli Alvarez (COL ’16) said she is optimistic about the bill’s passage, though was wary of the bill’s potential use as a political ploy in the mayoral race.

“There are two things which make me optimistic about this bill. First, last fall, undocumented immigrants were granted the opportunity to apply for driver’s licenses in the District. The provision is set to take effect this year. Second, some of the council members are currently running for mayor.,” Alvarez said.

Trevor Tezel (SFS ’15), former president of the College Democrats, hoped that the bill would be accompanied by more progressive immigration reform.

“I think first and foremost there needs to be [federal] immigration reform so that a lot of these individuals are put on a path to citizenship,” Tezel said.

The bill currently remains on the docket of the council, and it is unclear whether or not a major push is in line for its sponsors before the April 1 Democratic mayoral primary.

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