COLLEGE PARK – The community of College Park was prepared for a big decision, but instead left disappointed.
At the College Park City Council meeting Tuesday evening, there was set to be a vote to amend the elections section of the city charter to allow non-citizens to vote in city elections and to authorize a supplemental voter list be drawn up to include those voters. The non-citizens would not be allowed to vote in state or federal elections.
But instead of reaching a verdict, the council unanimously decided to remove the item from the agenda, postponing its decision until Sept. 12 to allow the council more time to discuss the issue and potentially putting it to voters.
“The purpose of delaying this vote is to allow the council time to discuss having a referendum on the November ballot,” said Councilwoman Christine Nagle, who made the motion. “With my colleagues’ consent, wording for the advisory question could be discussed at the September 5 worksession.”
The move came amid reports that some councilmembers had received death threats over the pending vote, although College Park Mayor Patrick Wojahn denied that was the reason for postponing it. However, three police officers were present at the chamber’s entrance during the meeting, which is an unusual occurrence in the city of 32,000.
Two communities in Prince George’s County, Hyattsville and Mount Rainier, passed similar ordinances this year to allow non-citizens to vote in their municipal elections.
Although the College Park council decided to delay the vote, community members still took the opportunity to express their opinions on the issue.
“I think this was a great opportunity to set a precedent and send a message of welcoming and inclusion right now, especially with all of the tension and hatred that we hear at the national level,” University of Maryland College Park rising junior Olivia Delaphine said. “I came because I have friends and people that I know who are not citizens, but are still really engaged and important members of this community. I believe they deserve an input on things like safety, rent prices, trash pickups. Things that the city council votes on that affects their lives.”
While Delaphine was hoping for the measure to pass, there were some who were on the other side. Larry Provost, a husband and father of one, served in Afghanistan and Iraq with the U.S. Army.
“It feels very disrespectful to legal immigrants in our country,” Provost said. “If you grant non-citizens all the rights, privileges and responsibilities of citizenship, then it dilutes the meaning of citizenship.
“It’s about becoming an American and being fully participatory as an American. Its preserving citizenship for future generations regardless of what their color is.”