Elections board told to reject noncitizen voting in Yellow Springs
- Published: July 31, 2020
Yellow Springs’ recent charter change allowing noncitizens to vote on local matters came under fire yesterday from the state’s chief election official.
In a press release, Ohio Secretary of State Frank LaRose criticized what he called Village efforts to “undermine the constitution” by granting noncitizens the right to vote. Local voters passed the charter amendment in the spring.
“Just when you thought 2020 couldn’t get any weirder, the village of Yellow Springs forces me as Ohio’s chief elections officer to restate the obvious — only US citizens may vote,” LaRose said in a press release yesterday.
“I won’t tolerate any local government who tries to subvert our laws, devalue American citizenship, and sew [sic] chaos in our elections,” he added.
In a separate letter dated June 30, LaRose ordered the Greene County Board of Elections to reject any noncitizen voter registrations as well as to put measures in place to ensure that only citizens vote in November’s election.
Village officials had yet to begin the process of registering noncitizen voters, who they anticipated were almost certainly going to be legal permanent residents, such as green card holders, and not undocumented residents.
In the extended spring primary, Yellow Springs voters passed a charter amendment granting noncitizens the right to vote by a margin of 891–650, or 58%–42%. Noncitizens would only be able to vote on local races and ballot measures, however.
The charter change ballot measure read:
“Residents of the Village of Yellow Springs who are non-US citizens shall be electors and are eligible to vote for Yellow Springs local issues and elected officials pursuant to the home rule power and granted by this Charter.”
However, LaRose contends that the charter provision violates both the U.S. Constitution and the Ohio Constitution, which both contain language noting “every citizen of the United States” shall vote. In addition, home rule powers, he argues, only apply when they are not in conflict with state laws.
“Incredibly, I’m being put in a position where I need to remind a village here in Ohio that a vote is a sacred right which many have fought and bled to protect — but only a right that is earned by birth or the oath of citizenship,” LaRose said in the release. “American citizenship is precious. It has value and with it comes the right and responsibility of being a voter.”
Yellow Springs Village Council members pushed back against LaRose’s arguments today.
Council President Brian Housh called the announcement “politically motivated,” and said that LaRose misunderstood that local measure’s aims, as well as the Village’s intentions behind it.
“It’s about recognizing that people who contribute to our community should have a say,” Housh said of the charter provision, which he reiterated only applies to local issues and not state or federal elections. He also pointed to municipalities in Maryland, who have extended voting rights to noncitizens for local elections.
As for LaRose’s message, Housh said he thinks it’s based upon “the fear that if voting becomes more inclusionary that Republicans are going to have a tougher time controlling politics in Ohio.”
“Clearly, LaRose thinks this is slam dunk, relying on xenophobic sentiments that are somewhat prolific but do not represent my Ohio and the state we all love,” he added in a followup email.
In a Facebook post, Council Member Laura Curliss contended that “noncitizens have also fought and died for this country,” noting that legal permanent residents are eligible to enlist in the military. Curliss, an attorney, also argued that the measure should be allowable under the home rule powers granted to municipalities in the Ohio Constitution.
“The people of Yellow Springs passed the non-citizen resident franchise extension Charter Amendment for local issues and candidates only,” Curliss wrote. “Disappointing that that State will not recognize local self-determination.”
When the measure was being debated in Village Council, then-Village Solicitor Chris Conrad said because of home rule powers, the amendment was “unlikely to be challenged by the state of Ohio.” Greene County Board of Elections, which oversees elections in Yellow Springs and is under the authority of LaRose, approved the issue’s placement on the Yellow Springs ballot. Housh also said he spoke directly with Sec. LaRose on the matter.
Housh told the News last fall that the Village did not plan to use money to defend any potential future legal challenges related to the amendment, should the charter change pass. He reaffirmed that commitment to the News today. However, that doesn’t mean the Village won’t challenge LaRose’s action. Housh, who also has a law degree, said they could use Council expertise and pro bono legal options.
As for the Village’s next steps, Council will likely meet soon in executive session for the purposes of potential litigation to discuss the matter. Housh said the courts will ultimately need to weigh in, but that the Village wasn’t planning to back down.
“We will continue to do whatever we need to do to drive positive change,” he said.
Read more: Charter change: A closer look, October 17, 2019
A longer story will appear in the Aug. 6 print edition of the Yellow Springs News.