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California city keeps controversial language on ballot measure for non-citizens to vote: ‘Sugarcoating’

The Santa Ana City Council opted to keep controversial language on a ballot measure asking voters to decide whether non-citizen "taxpayers and parents" can partake in local elections.

The Southern California city of Santa Ana is keeping a controversial phrase on a ballot measure to allow non-citizens to vote in local elections, rejecting legal challenges to the phrasing so far. 

The Santa Ana City Council proposed a ballot measure to ask voters to decide in November whether non-citizen residents of the city, “including those who are taxpayers and parents,” can participate in all municipal elections. However, conservative organizations, including the California Public Policy Foundation, later brought a lawsuit against the measure in Orange County Superior Court, arguing that the language is “unlawfully partisan” and would cast the ballot measure “in a more favorable light by highlighting sympathetic groups of voters who will receive voting rights under the proposal,” according to the outlet LAist. 

A county judge sided with the California Public Policy Foundation and other opponents earlier this month, asking the city of Santa Ana to update its ballot language to make it more neutral. 


Despite this, the Santa Ana City Council voted last week to keep the controversial seven-word phrase, Politico reported. Council members who voted in favor of keeping the ballot measure as is, said the American Civil Liberties Union has agreed to defend any further lawsuits. 

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“The language I find to be unbiased: It is simply describing who non-citizens are,” City Council member Johnathan Hernandez said during a meeting last week, according to Politico. “Non-citizens pay over $145 million in taxes in Orange County today … Orange County wouldn’t be the county that it is without non-citizens.”

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Council member David Penaloza disagreed, arguing the city escalated from “neutral, adequate” phrasing on the measure to “disingenuous” language intended to “persuade and influence” voters. 

He reportedly said that the council had “pulled language out of the air” when the measure continued to advance.  

“I don’t know why, but they did that, included the term ‘parents,'” he added. “This is simply being done so when somebody goes to the ballot box, they read, ‘Oh yeah, of course parents and taxpayers can vote.’”

James Lacy, an attorney and activist involved in the litigation, told Politico that though he is against non-citizens voting in elections, he did not oppose the issue remaining on the ballot in general. 

“What they’re doing, without a question, is sugarcoating the ballot in favor of a vote for it by making a statement that is positive,” he reportedly said. “That is advocacy – you can’t do that and have a fair election.”

Lacy also told LAist in early June that the measure’s controversial wording violates the election code because “it prejudicially informs the voter in a way to encourage a yes vote on the ballot measure.”

It is illegal for non-citizens to vote in federal elections, but the Illegal Immigration Reform and Immigrant Responsibility Act of 1996 states that non-citizens are permitted to participate in other elections if they are “authorized to vote for such other purpose under a State constitution or statute or a local ordinance.”

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Other cities in California, like San Francisco and Oakland, have advanced efforts to allow non-citizens to vote in local contests, including school board elections, in recent years.

In 2016, a ballot measure known as Proposition N passed in San Francisco, allowing non-citizen parents and guardians of children residing in the city to vote in local school board elections. 

Faced with legal challenges, a San Francisco Superior Court judge later said the measure was unconstitutional. The California Court of Appeal reversed that ruling last August, deeming that state and local governments, in particular charter cities, have the power to enforce their own election rules at the municipal level. Like San Francisco, Santa Ana is a charter city. 

“I believe that we can continue to challenge this issue of non-citizen voting, probably with better results in the federal court system,” Lacy told LAist. “The California state court system, particularly the appellate system, is really populated by liberal Democratic judges.”

During a presidential election year, Republicans at the state and federal level are pushing to curtail non-citizen voting and give states the power to clean up their voter rolls. 

In an interview with Fox News Digital last week, Alabama Secretary of State Wes Allen called for Congress to enact reforms to the National Voter Registration Act of 1993 after discovering that non-citizens who came into contact with Medicaid or other state welfare agencies in Alabama were being provided voter registration forms under the Biden administration’s broad interpretation of the law. 

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Last month, Reps. Chip Roy, R-Texas, and Mike Lee, R-Utah, introduced the Safeguard American Voter Eligibility Act. That legislation, if passed, would require states to obtain proof of citizenship — in person — when registering an individual to vote, and require states to remove non-citizens from existing voter rolls. 

According to Politico, voters in Missouri, South Carolina, Iowa, Kentucky and Wisconsin this fall will decide on ballot measures to explicitly ban non-citizens from voting. More might follow suit. Last week, North Carolina’s legislature advanced a proposed amendment to the state constitution that would clarify that only U.S. citizens who are at least 18 years old and meet other qualifications “shall be entitled to vote at any election.” 

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