As College Park, Maryland, mulls the question of opening its city elections to noncitizens, the mayor and two of the city’s council members are on record saying it’s a bad idea to ask the public to weigh in via referendum, The Diamondback newspaper reported Thursday night.
Mayor Patrick Wojahn and City Councilmen Robert Day and P.J. Brennan oppose putting the question before voters in nonbinding referendum, with the latter two saying voting is a “civil rights” matter that should not be decided by the voting public, according to The Diamondback.
“If we were to do a referendum with a civil rights issue, we’d never have the people being affected included in the vote,” said Mr. Day, reported the Diamondback, the student newspaper for the University of Maryland.
“If, at that time, we would’ve left that up to a referendum, blacks would not be able to vote today,” he added.
“When the majority have asked to make a decision for a minority group, civil rights referendums routinely tend to fail,” Mr. Brennan said. For his part, Mr. Wojahn said he opposes putting the matter up to a public vote but is fine with whatever the council decides, according to The Diamondback.
The one city councilman on the record supporting a referendum is Fazlul Kabir, a University of Maryland professor who immigrated to the United States in 1998, according to a 2015 profile published online by The Muslim Link.
“The city charter is a very sacred document and we need to take a lot of care and be very careful when we make any change to it,” Mr. Kabir said, according to The Diamondback. “We have an opportunity right now to put discussion to the ballot, to referendum, because the election is just around the corner.”
The College Park city council was initially expected to vote on opening up elections to noncitizens in August, but postponed the decision in light of negative reactions from some city voters. At least one city councilwoman founder herself was the target of a “very graphic threat,” WUSA-TV in Washington, D.C., reported at the time.
The city council is expected to make a decision on the matter during its next session on Tuesday, Sept. 12. If approved, the college town will become the 11th Maryland municipality to allow noncitizen voting, according to WUSA.