Richmond councilmembers aim to extend voting rights to undocumented residents

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Richmond City Hall (Photo by Kathy Chouteau)

Three members of the Richmond City Council aim to see if the city has the authority to extend voting rights in city elections to undocumented residents.

In a council agenda document, Councilmembers Claudia Jimenez and Eduardo Martinez and Vice Mayor Demnlus Johnson III want the City Council to direct city staff “to review University of California Berkeley’s research, the City Charter and other relevant legal authority to determine if the City has the authority to extend voting rights to undocumented Richmond residents,” and to then have City Council decide whether to extend them.

“In spite of the significant contributions of undocumented immigrants, they are denied public voice via voting rights,” the councilmembers state in the agenda item, which was slated to be discussed at the City Council meeting this past Tuesday. The item was not heard due to time constraints.

Richmond has an opportunity to extend voting rights to this important stakeholder group, provided there is no local legislation that prohibits non-citizen voting in municipal elections,” according to the councilmembers. “There is no state law in California that prohibits non-citizens voting in local elections. Rather, the California Constitution’s home rule law gives local jurisdictions the power to regulate city elections.”

Over a quarter of Contra Costa County’s estimated 1.15 million residents are immigrants, and about 19 percent of them are undocumented, the agenda item states. It also states that undocumented immigrants “are an integral part of Richmond, participating in neighborhood and community life and contributing to our service system. They also are vulnerable to significant discrimination and inequity via criminalization, surveillance, exploitation by employers, lack of language access and other forms of societal marginalization.”