California Judge Rules Non-Citizens Can’t Vote in School Board Elections

The San Francisco judge struck down an existing law.

QUICK FACTS:
  • A California judge recently struck down a law allowing non-citizen parents to cast ballots in San Francisco school board elections, citing violations of the state’s constitution and laws.
  • In his decision, San Francisco Superior Court Judge Richard Ulmer Jr. stated that only citizens are permitted to vote under the California Constitution.
  • The complaint against the policy that allowed non-citizen voters was filed by several conservative groups and included the argument that  San Francisco residents have “an undeniable interest in ensuring that their elections are conducted in accordance with controlling state law” because state taxpayers are the ones funding school districts.
  • “When [San Francisco Unified School District] spends taxpayer funds, it is not spending local taxpayer funds; it is spending state taxpayer funds. In this regard, everyone in the state has an interest in SFUSD’s expenditures,” the complaint reads. 
  • The judge’s ruling on July 29 said that the ordinance allowing the voting “is contrary to the California Constitution and state statutes and thus cannot stand.”
DETAILS ON THE SUIT:
  • The lawsuit relates to Proposition N, which was a charter amendment that San Francisco voters approved on the ballot in 2016. It was the state’s first ordinance of its kind.
  • The recently enacted measure questioned whether the city would “allow a non-citizen resident of San Francisco who is of legal voting age and the parent, legal guardian or legally recognized caregiver of a child living in the San Francisco Unified School District to vote for members of the Board of Education.”
  • In his ruling on the issue, Ulmer wrote, “‘A United States citizen 18 years of age and resident in this State may vote.’ Transcendent law of California, the constitution … reserves the vote to a ‘United States citizen,’ contrary to [the] San Francisco ordinance,” nullifying the ballot measure.
BACKGROUND:
  • The action was similar to one made in late June by a New York judge who overturned a law that would have allowed over 800,000 non-citizens to cast ballots in local elections.
  • A charter amendment previously allowed the San Francisco Board of Supervisors to decide whether non-citizens could vote in the Board of Education elections.
  • The United States Justice Foundation and the California Public Policy Foundation, two related conservative organizations, and California attorney James Lacy filed the lawsuit against the city and county of San Francisco in March 2022 to contest the ordinance.