San Francisco, CA – Today, CAA released a new report, Immigrant Voting and the Movement for Inclusion in San Francisco, which examines the fight to win immigrant voting legislation in San Francisco and how conservatives continue to threaten these rights through coordinated court challenges. The battle for immigrant voting rights is a microcosm of larger political fights in America – who belongs in the community?
“Immigrant voting is as American as apple pie and older than our national pastime –baseball. In practice, immigrant voting facilitates civic engagement, immigrant integration, and responsive government,” says Ron Hayduk, co-author of the report and Professor at San Francisco State University. “At a time when Americans are debating the nation’s identity and the nature of democracy, immigrant voting provides valuable lessons to enhance such debate.”
In 2016, San Francisco voters adopted a ballot measure allowing any parent with a child to vote in local school board elections regardless of their immigration status. Immigrant parents and caregivers have a unique stake in their child’s education including voting for school board members.
“This report looks at how immigrant voting was won in San Francisco, and the effect that immigrant voting has had on our democracy and community,” says Megan Dias, co-author of the report and Ph.D. Candidate, University of Texas at Austin. “We know that momentum around immigrant voting is picking up around the country, like New York City and Washington D.C., but we’re also seeing the partisan backlash to the progress that has been made. It was important for us to understand the real effects immigrant voting has on the community, so that we understand the stakes around it, and the importance of continuing to push for these rights. San Francisco provides a great case study of how the right to vote was won, implemented, and protected.”
Immigrant voting has long existed in American history dispelling the false notion that citizenship is required to vote in the United States. In fact, immigrants voted in 40 states at some point in time between 1776 and 1926, not just in local elections, but also in state and federal elections.
“Immigrant voting should not be up for debate,” says Olivia Marti, co-author of the report and Ph.D. Student at the University of California, Los Angeles. “This report prioritizes and highlights how immigrant parents are stakeholders in their children’s education — if given a legal opportunity. All people should be afforded the same rights, especially when it comes to voting on measures that impact the communities in which they live. Immigrant voting is what democracy looks like.”
A recent poll from the Berkeley Institute for Governmental Studies at the University of California found that, by a five to four margin (51% to 42%), Californians support non-citizen residents voting in local school board elections. “Immigrant voting is percolating in local municipalities throughout the state,” says Annette Wong, CAA’s Managing Director of Programs. “This poll reflects the re-emerging popularity of immigrant voting as an important step toward bringing us closer to a truer democracy.”
San Francisco is not alone in permitting immigrant voting in local elections. Today, 17 jurisdictions allow immigrants to vote, some for decades including: ten towns in Maryland (since the 1990s); three towns in Vermont (2021 and 2023); Oakland, California (2022); New York City (1969-2002, 2021); and, Washington, D.C. (2022).
Lawsuits by conservative organizations have been filed in New York City, San Francisco, Oakland, and Washington, D.C. in an attempt to prevent immigrant voting from moving forward. Here, in San Francisco, the California Court of Appeals issued a ruling in favor of San Francisco and restored immigrant parents’ right to vote this past summer.
Download the report here.
Chinese for Affirmative Action (CAA) was founded in 1969 to protect the civil and political rights of Chinese Americans and to advance multiracial democracy in the United States. Today, CAA is a progressive voice in and on behalf of the broader Asian American and Pacific Islander community. We advocate for systemic change that protects immigrant rights, promotes language diversity, and remedies racial and social injustice. You can learn more about us at caasf.org.