Oakland City Council members voted to send a measure to the Nov. 8 ballot that will expand voting rights to non-citizen parents, guardians and caregivers of students in the school district if it is passed, the city announced Wednesday.
The measure, proposed by Oakland Council members Dan Kalb and Treva Reid, gives non-citizen parents, legal guardians and legally recognized caregivers of children enrolled in Oakland Unified School District schools the ability to vote in the district's school board elections.
"Non-citizen parents are already doing the hard work to try to ensure that their children each get a good education. Many are already volunteering at their children's schools. But what we're hearing overwhelmingly is that these parents often don't feel heard," Kalb said.
"This measure to allow non-citizen parents to vote will allow us to ensure that these parents are heard and that their children's needs are better met as a result. All parents of school-age children should be able to help decide who runs the school system."
The vote took place on Tuesday, the day after a press conference was held at Oakland International High School where council members were joined by parents, school board officials and community advocates like Unity Council and Homies Empowerment who support the legislation.
Oakland, one of the most diverse cities in America, is home to 230,000 individuals of voting age, of which at least 13,000 are non-citizens, according to the 2020 census. Many of these non-citizens are parents of students in Oakland Unified schools, who pay taxes, contribute to the local economy and are invested in the school district.
"This Non-Citizen Voting Measure will ensure families-including many immigrants and refugees from Africa, Asia, and South America-with over 17,000 students are seen and heard at the voting polls to improve academic outcomes for all students within Oakland Unified School District. It is our responsibility to promote pathways to provide increased quality resources, educator and family support, and mental health services that will advance equitable academic and life outcomes for all students to thrive," Council member Treva Reid said.
The Nov. 8 vote comes at a time when voting rights are being restricted across the country. However, cities like New York and San Francisco have already brought voting rights back to non-citizens.
San Francisco has allowed non-citizen parents and guardians to vote in school board elections since 2016, and New York City will allow around 800,000 green card holders and others authorized to work in the country to participate in mayoral, city council and other local elections starting in 2023.
If passed, the Non-Citizen Voting Measure will make Oakland one of the leading cities in expanding voting rights for non-citizens in the United States.
"Non-citizens were able to vote in this country from 1776 to 1926. Undocumented citizens in California contribute 3.2 billion dollars every year in the form of taxes which amounts to taxation without representation," said Dr. Cesar Cruz, founder of the East Oakland-based community organization Homies Empowerment.
"It is critical that every parent regardless of legal status be allowed to vote as it creates a more engaged community here in Oakland and ultimately it betters our society. Putting this initiative on the ballot is crucial and passing it means we take one step forward in the quest for equal access for all," Cruz said.