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Non-Citizen Voting in San Francisco

Non-citizen voting blog image
November 5, 2019 SF Unified School District Board Election
By Ruth Geos

One seat on the SF Unified School District Board is now open for special election on November 5, 2019: a three-way contest between Robert K. Coleman, Jenny Lam, and Kirsten Strobel. This is the one local race for which San Francisco non-citizens have the right to vote, regardless of immigration status, if they are parents to children in the system and are willing to formally register.

This right was established when San Francisco voters approved Proposition N in 2016, granting non-citizens with children in the SFUSD the right to vote in school board elections. Formally speaking, Prop. N became a part of the San Francisco Charter, Article XIII Elections, Section 13.111.  New sections of the San Francisco Municipal Elections Code, §§ 1001-1005 were also adopted to regulate how the non-citizen registration and voting system would be handled separately from other local, state, and national elections where non-citizens could not vote. San Francisco citizen voters—whether parents or not—are also qualified to vote for Board of Education representatives.

Although declared a radical step by some when Prop. N passed, San Francisco’s adoption of limited voting rights for non-citizens is not as bold or as isolated as some may urge, and rather reflects the state of non-citizen rights and public participation that was common in the first part of American history. In early America, the suffrage pattern was to deliberately extend voting privileges to non-citizens, ending only in the 1920s in the wake of world events affecting political attitudes towards immigration.

Equating citizenship with the exclusive right to vote is not as accurate it may sound.  In 1872, four years after the 14th Amendment was passed but 48 years before the 19th Amendment granting women full suffrage, Ellen Van Valkenburg appealed for the right to register to vote in Santa Cruz County. The California Supreme Court found that the US Constitution at that stage did not offer parity in voting to women, even to women citizens, parsing the difference between political and civil rights of citizens. It pointed out that the right to vote is as we grant it:

…unnaturalized foreigners were by State laws allowed to vote—following in this respect the early policy of the Federal Government, who, in the ordinance of 1787, for the government of the Northwestern Territory, had permitted the elective franchise to the unnaturalized French and Canadians, of whom the population of that Territory was then largely composed. It will be found that from the earliest periods of our history the State laws regulated the privilege of the elective franchise within their respective limits, and that these laws were exactly such as local interests, peculiar conditions, or supposed policy dictated…
Van Valkenburg v. Brown (1872) 43 Cal. 43, 50–5

In contemporary times, San Francisco is not the only municipality—nor even the first—to extend voting rights to non-citizens in school board or other local matters. The city of Chicago, and ten municipalities in Maryland, including Tacoma Park, provide for non-citizen voting in local school board elections, and other American cities have also pushed forward on this initiative. Internationally, a range of countries, including Canada, Norway, Sweden, Switzerland, and New Zealand, extend voting rights to residents who are not citizens, some even further than limited local participation.

The idea behind non-citizen voting in school board elections is to increase parental participation in public schools where their children are being educated. As advocates at the time of Proposition N pointed out, at least a third of all children in the SF public schools have immigrant parents, and these are the non-citizens who may not be otherwise represented. Some of these parents may be documented, with green cards, for example, and others undocumented, but all, as parents, have a stake in the allotment of school resources and development of school curriculum and policies.

This limited right to vote, however, comes with an implicit risk—as plainly stated in all San Francisco election materials:

non-citizen voting

The risk to families is compounded by the requirement that a non-citizen voter registration is valid for one school board election at a time; the San Francisco Municipal Elections Code §1002(d) requires that a new voter registration be submitted for each school board election by non-citizens.

Reports from the 2018 midterm election estimate that no more than 60 San Francisco non-citizens voted in the last school board election. Prop N included its own sunset provision, extending non-citizen voting rights only to the end of 2022, requiring the Board of Supervisors, with the input of the entire San Francisco community, to then decide whether to continue with this policy initiative. At least until 2022, non-citizen parents in San Francisco with children in the public schools are entitled to vote in school board elections—and perhaps that’s sufficient time, in the best of worlds, to resolve the inherent dilemmas and to decide whether we will uphold the right itself.


The registration deadline for all voters for the next November 5, 2019 election has passed; however, all San Francisco voters who missed this date are still permitted to go in person to register and vote a provisional ballot either at the City Hall Voting Center or the SF State voting Center to vote.  Find more information at the SF Board of Elections, or call them at: (415) 554-4375.


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Serve Your Time, Regain Your Vote

regain your vote
Who do you want for D.A.?

By Ruth Geos

Conviction of a felony in California results in a disqualification to vote, but only while the sentence is being served and the parole period satisfied. Once the time is done, those with felony criminal convictions can take up their citizen’s right to vote again. Indeed, the upcoming November 5th Consolidated Municipal Election in San Francisco offers an opportunity to give direct input on criminal justice policies—the race for the San Francisco District Attorney, one of the most contested parts of the ballot. The CA Secretary of State offers an easy, even pretty, step-by-step checklist on regaining the right to vote, along with a link to go forward to register to vote for the very next election ahead and those coming in 2020.

Other states have other rules for suspending or restoring the right to vote to those with felony convictions, ranging from no suspension at all of the right, to the need for a governor’s pardon. Here, though, it is a relatively easy process. The rules are spelled out in the California Elections Code, Section 2101, which sets the details on who is entitled to vote or pre-register to vote, and have been interpreted by the CA Courts as protecting the right to vote except during the period of a felony sentence or parole.

Elections Code § 2101.

(a) A person entitled to register to vote shall be a United States citizen, a resident of California, not imprisoned or on parole for the conviction of a felony, and at least 18 years of age at the time of the next election.

(b) A person entitled to preregister to vote in an election shall be a United States citizen, a resident of California, not imprisoned or on parole for the conviction of a felony, and at least 16 years of age.

(c) For purposes of this section, the following definitions apply:

(1) “Imprisoned” means currently serving a state or federal prison sentence.

(2) “Parole” means a term of supervision by the Department of Corrections and Rehabilitation.

(3) “Conviction” does not include a juvenile adjudication made pursuant to Section 203 of the Welfare and Institutions Code.

CA jail prisoners are different. CA prisoners in county jail can still vote while serving their misdemeanor or felony jail sentence, a parole violation, during probation, and under a variety of other circumstances. To check the finer points on qualifications to vote now, and the process for going forward to exercise that right, consult with the San Francisco Sheriff’s Prisoner Legal Services at 415-558-2472.


For more questions, resources, to register to vote, or to vote, call or email the SF Department of Elections at 415-554-4375, SFVote@sfgov.org.
Don’t forget to register to vote by October 21st for the upcoming election.
And check out our elections guide for more information.


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Early Voting Now Open

Early Voting
By Ruth Geos

As of this week, starting Monday, October 7th, you can be ahead of the curve, and walk right into City Hall and cast your vote or drop off your vote-by-mail ballot. Or if you are not already registered, go ahead and do that. You can also take a moment to pause to look around, appreciate the interior grandeur, the famous marble steps, and try to picture it all as a location for movies, including Milk, Dirty Harry, Raiders of the Lost Ark, and Invasion of the Body Snatchers. And there might be a wedding going on.

Until Election Day, Tuesday, November 5th, voting hours are daytime only, with some upcoming weekend dates:

  • Monday through Friday, 8 a.m. to 5 p.m. (Closed Monday, October 14, as legal holiday.)
  • Weekends ahead: Saturday and Sunday, two weekends before Election Day, 10 a.m. to 4 p.m. starting Saturday, October 26th.  (enter on Grove Street)
  • Election Day, Tuesday, November 5th: 7 a.m. to 8 p.m.

The City Hall Voting Center is located on the ground floor, Room 48.

Or, if you would rather vote in your pajamas at home, sign up for a Vote by Mail ballot: https://sfelections.sfgov.org/vote-mail

As to what’s actually on the ballot: contests for the SF District Attorney,  District 5 Supervisor, and other candidates, along with multiple city measures on topics ranging from affordable housing to vaping, campaign contributions, and taxing Lyft-Uber rides.  Other ballot information guides include those put together by the League of Women Voters of San Francisco and Spur. Take a look at what matters to you. And then, vote.


Questions: check with SF Department of Elections at 415-554-4375.
Don’t forget to register to vote by October 21st.
And take a look at our elections guide for more information.


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Are You a District 5 Resident?

Are You a District 5 Resident?
All the more reason to vote this November!
By Ruth Geos

District 5

Only one San Francisco Supervisor spot is on the ballot this fall, and that’s yours, if you live in District 5: winding across the Inner Sunset, Haight-Ashbury, Cole Valley, Lower Haight, Hayes Valley, Alamo Square, Fillmore/Western Addition, Japantown, Cathedral Hill, Lower Pacific Heights, North of the Panhandle, and Tank Hill.

The District 5 contest is between incumbent Vallie Brown—who was appointed to serve by Mayor Breed in 2018 to the seat she vacated on becoming Mayor—and 3 challengers: Dean Preston, Nomvula O’Meara, and Ryan Lam.

Voting is open to all who live in District 5:  homeowners, renters and roommates, and those without a fixed street address, including homeless persons who can specify intersecting cross-streets within the district boundaries for a registration address.

Not sure if you’re in District 5? Try this: the District Lookup tool from the SF Planning Department.


Other questions?
Call the SF Department of Elections at 415-554-4375 or take a look at their voting resources, at https://sfelections.sfgov.org/
Registration for the November ballot continues to October 21, 2019
Early voting starts October 7th at City Hall.
Visit our Elections Guide for more details.


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Votes for Women: A (Relatively) New Prize

Votes for Women: A Relatively New Prize…and Harder Won Than We Remember
By Ruth Geos

Votes for Women

From the Smithsonian and National Museum of American History

To continue our Road to the Election series, we now look at votes for women:

In 1911, California became the 6th state to recognize women’s right to vote—and it was no walk in the park. In that election, San Francisco voters, all men, mostly voted against it.

A similar California referendum had failed in 1886 and a constitutional court challenge failed in 1872. The California Supreme Court, in Van Valkenburg v. Brown, 43 Cal. 43 (1872), had supported the refusal of the County Clerk of Santa Cruz County to allow Ellen Van Valkenburg to register to vote, finding that neither the 14th or  15th Amendments to the U.S. Constitution established the right to vote by women.

The push for voting rights for women in the U.S. was initially state to state. Wyoming, Colorado, Utah, Idaho and Washington all came before California in winning women’s right to vote. Each state effort built on the next, and not all campaigns were successful.

It was not until 9 years after California suffrage, that the Nineteenth Amendment to the U.S. Constitution would be fully ratified, on August 26, 1920.  This next year, 2020, will be not only the next Presidential Election but the centennial anniversary of the Nineteenth Amendment, which is quoted here:

The right of citizens of the United States to vote shall not be denied or abridged by the United States or by any State on account of sex.

Even with that landmark Constitutional accomplishment, and its plain and forthright language, still not all women could vote. African American women, who had equally fought for suffrage, had another 45 years ahead until that right was legally protected, with the enactment of the Voting Rights Act of 1965.

To see a glimmer of what it took to make U.S. women’s suffrage a reality, take a look at the National Portrait Gallery’s, Votes for Women: A Portrait of Persistence, along with the exhibition from The National Museum of African American History and Culture, Five African American suffragists you should know, and the evocative array of archived objects in the Smithsonian collections, including campaign buttons worn throughout all.


Next Election: November 5, 2019: SF Consolidated Municipal Election

Still need to Register to vote? Check with the SF Board of Elections.
You can also Register to Vote at the San Francisco Law Library.
Confused about the new SF voting system? Come to our free program on Friday 9/27.
See our Election Guide for more details.


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What Does it Take to Vote?

By Ruth Geos, Reference Librarian

Maybe you woke up to a campaign pitch for a Ballot Measure hanging from your front door, or were stirred by the Democratic candidate debates this week–or every day as you walk in the city, wish you could weigh in who should be making policy and setting up priorities for the future of San Francisco. If so, the time to vote is very soon.

Tuesday, November 3, 2019
Vote in the Consolidated Municipal Elections
Registration by October 21, 2019

Can you vote?

To vote you must first register to establish your voter qualifications; and to register to vote in San Francisco for all candidates and measures, these are the checkmarks:

  • A United States Citizen
  • A San Francisco resident
  • At least 18 years old before or on the day of the election
  • Not be in state or federal prison, or on parole for the conviction of a felony
  • Not currently found mentally incompetent to vote by a court

Aren’t I already registered?

It’s simple to find out. Use the Voter Registration Status Lookup with the San Francisco Department of Elections.

Voter Image

If you’re not there, even if you remember voting sometime in the past,  you may need to update your address through a Registration Update. You can scan the Update and return to  SFVote@sfgov.org. or, if you like, mail it back:

Department of Elections
1 Dr. Carlton B. Goodlett Place
City Hall, Room 48
San Francisco, CA 94102

And if you are registering for the first time, or using this moment to declare your party preference in advance of the State Primary in 2020,  you can Register online or use print options, following the clear instructions, links and even video demonstration, all provided by the SF Department of Elections:

While you’re filling the page out, in whatever mode you choose, you might as well select other options you might like. Want a large-print Informational Pamphlet? Want to skip the print altogether and receive the Pamphlet as a pdf?  Prefer to vote by mail? To do all this in a language other than English? No problem. Just do it before October 21st: 15 days before the election: or then, it is not so easy at all.

Other questions? Call the SF Department of Elections at 415: 554-4375 or take a look at their voting resources, at:  https://sfelections.sfgov.org/


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National Voter Registration Day at the Law Library

NVRDlogoThis year the Law Library is participating in National Voter Registration Day (NVRD), the only holiday that helps register people to vote. It’s celebrated on the fourth Tuesday of every September, so we’re a few weeks away, but leading up to September 24th we will have a series of posts related to NVRD and elections. Be sure to check for new posts, and also stop by or tell people you know to stop by the library on September 24th to register to vote!

Our first post features information on important dates for the upcoming November 5, 2019 Consolidated Municipal Election:


Are you Registered? Are you sure?

Yes, it’s true, all eyes it seems are pointed towards November 2020 for the General Election that stars the Presidential contest. But first, there’s more: the Presidential Primary coming up in March 2020—the very first time California will have an early primary, so that CA voters will be in play to help determine the opposition candidates.

But before that, it’s local. And as they say—all politics is local. Next up is the November 5, 2019 Consolidated Municipal Election. If, in the bluster of national and international news, this one has so far this one has escaped you, we are voting for the San Francisco Mayor’s first full term, for a new District Attorney, a new Public Defender (San Francisco is the only county in the state of California that elects its Public Defender) and a few other local offices, all which affect our own civil society.


Key Dates:

Next Election: November 5, 2019
Register To Vote By: October 21, 2019

Registration to vote ends 15 days prior to the election, so this is the moment to check your current registration status with the San Francisco Department of Elections, and do a full update for this election and those just ahead on the political horizon.

  • To check if you are currently registered to vote in San Francisco, use the Voter Registration Status Lookup tool.
  • To update or makes changes to your Registration, as for example, change of address, choice of party affiliation, or request to go green for an online version of the Voter Information Pamphlet instead of the bulky paper version, some changes can be done online and others by mail. Take a look at Make Changes to Your Registration Record.
  • Or, Registering for the first time (old ways or new): If you have a signature on file with the CA DMV, you can register online using the California Secretary of State’s Online Registration Application or by requesting a paper application, through the SF Department of Elections contact form or by calling (415) 554-4375.
  • Or, if none of this is working for you, plunge ahead and just email the San Francisco Department of Elections: SFVote@sfgov.org or give them a call at (415) 554-4375

And for those who may love San Francisco and wish it all good civic fortune, but live in another California county, take a look at what elections may be brewing in your own backyard this November, and how to sign up for this one—and everything that comes in 2020: https://www.sos.ca.gov/elections/upcoming-elections/county-administered-elections/


Look for upcoming posts, as well as a lunchtime program that will help make sense of San Francisco’s new voting system.