U.S. News

Maryland city approves letting non-citizens vote in local elections

WASHINGTON (Reuters) - The Maryland city of College Park will allow non-citizens to take part in local elections, ending months of controversy amid a roiling national debate over immigrants and their status in the United States.

Council members in the Washington suburb, home to the University of Maryland’s flagship campus, voted 4-3 late on Tuesday to approve the measure, city clerk Janeen Miller said by telephone on Wednesday. One member abstained.

The resolution was approved after hours of debate and the failure of two counterproposals, with dozens of residents speaking for and against the measure.

“It’s really difficult when a divisive issue like this comes up in our community. I hope we can move beyond it and continue to work together for a stronger College Park,” Mayor Patrick Wojahn, who signed the measure, said by phone.

Under the new policy, the city clerk must maintain a separate list of foreigners who are eligible to vote. The measure will be in effect for 2019 city elections.

At least 10 other towns in Maryland, a heavily Democratic state, have similar measures letting non-citizens vote. Chicago also allows non-citizens to vote in local school council elections, according to the National Conference of State Legislatures.

About one-fifth of College Park’s 32,000 residents are foreign born, according to the Census Bureau. City officials said they did not know how many residents were not citizens.

The city’s measure was first introduced in June, triggering a heated debate and national attention. Council members received threatening messages, and a planned August vote was put off after a contentious public hearing.

Republican President Donald Trump has vowed to crack down on illegal immigration and build a wall along the Mexican border.

Trump said last week he was ending a program set up under Democratic President Barack Obama that protects from deportation immigrants brought into the United States illegally as children.

Reporting by Ian Simpson; Editing by Colleen Jenkins and Frances Kerry