San Francisco Defends Immigrant Parents’ Right to Vote in School Board Elections
San Francisco, CA – Tomorrow, the San Francisco City Attorney’s Office is expected to formally respond to a lawsuit challenging San Francisco’s noncitizen voting ordinance, which allows immigrant parents to vote in school board elections.
San Francisco is part of a larger movement permitting noncitizens to vote in local elections including in New York and Vermont. This lawsuit coincides with a larger effort by Republicans across the country, which includes more than 500 bills introduced since the 2020 elections, to engage in voter suppression tactics such as expanding voter identification, limiting voting options, and increasing voter roll purges. If this lawsuit succeeds, it would discourage many and prevent some immigrant voters from having their voices heard on important matters that impact their children.
In November 2016, San Francisco voters passed a ballot measure that allows noncitizens to vote in local school board elections. That right was extended indefinitely in December 2021. Since 2016, there have been four elections in which noncitizens could vote.
“By extending the right to vote to noncitizens, San Francisco has led the way in expanding access to democracy and promoting immigrant inclusion,” says Olivia Zheng, CAA’s Immigrant Rights Coordinator. “In the face of attacks on voting rights across the country, it is crucial to continue defending the right for immigrants to fully participate in and shape their communities.”
Amos Lim, Immigrant Parent & Declarant
Amos Lim, an immigrant parent with a child starting high school in the fall of 2022, provided a declaration in support of the City’s opposition to the lawsuit: “I voted in these elections because I believe in civic participation and want to exercise my voice in my daughter’s education. It is also important for me to show my daughter that voting is an important right and if you have the right to vote, you must participate and vote.” Amos has voted in three School Board elections.
Hwaji Shin, Immigrant Parent & Declarant
Hwaji Shin, an immigrant parent with a child attending San Francisco public elementary school, provided a declaration in support of the City’s opposition to the lawsuit: “I voted because I wanted my voice to be heard. I knew what powerlessness felt like, but I had never before experienced the significance of the ballot and the power of exercising my right to vote. I was surprised at my own tears as I voted.” She further stated, “For the first time in my life, I felt like I was a full member of the school community whose voice matters. I intend to re-register to vote in San Francisco’s school board elections so that I may continue to exercise my voice in matters related to my son’s education.” Hwaji voted for the first time in the November 2018 election.
Yanling Deng, Immigrant Parent & Declarant
Yanling Deng, an immigrant parent of a two-and-half-year-old daughter, provided a declaration in support of the City’s opposition to the lawsuit: “I voted in the school board recall election because I wanted to advocate for immigrant children and families, especially Asian immigrant parents. I felt that the school district was not listening to low-income, limited English proficient immigrant families and parents, though this group needs more support from the school district.”
Immigrant rights advocates know that this ordinance is lawful and the City of San Francisco should ultimately prevail in Court. Qualified voters who would like to learn more about the right to vote should consult with a trusted community-based organization, such as CAA. The Department of Elections also has multilingual material available for noncitizen voters. Community members who would like to learn more about this right can reach out to CAA’s Immigrant Rights team at 415-761-3222 for more information.
Chinese for Affirmative Action (CAA) is a community-based civil rights organization in San Francisco. Our mission is to protect the civil and political rights of Chinese Americans and to advance multiracial democracy in the United States. We advocate for systemic change that protects immigrant rights, promotes language diversity, and remedies racial injustice.