City Attorney David Chiu

Appeal Court upholds San Francisco’s noncitizen voting program

Noncitizen parents can continue to vote in San Francisco school board elections

SAN FRANCISCO (August 8, 2023) — City Attorney David Chiu announced today that the California Court of Appeal upheld San Francisco’s noncitizen voting program. The Court found that the City’s program is permissible under the California Constitution and San Francisco’s charter city authority. The decision permits noncitizen parents of children residing in San Francisco to continue to vote in San Francisco school board elections.

City Attorney David Chiu
City Attorney David Chiu

“The Court’s decision is a wonderful victory for immigrant parents, who can continue to exercise their right to vote in San Francisco school board elections,” said City Attorney Chiu. “When more parents have a voice in the direction of our schools, it leads to better outcomes for all students and communities. We are pleased the Court agreed with our position that the program is legal under the California Constitution and San Francisco’s authority as a Charter city.”

In 2016, San Francisco voters passed Proposition N, which created San Francisco’s noncitizen voting program allowing noncitizen parents and guardians of children residing in San Francisco to vote in local school board elections. Since then, San Francisco has conducted five elections under this noncitizen voting program.

Despite the program being operational for several elections, it was challenged in court after the February 15, 2022, recall election saw the highest participation yet of noncitizen voters. In July 2022, a San Francisco Superior Court judge ruled that the program was unconstitutional.

San Francisco appealed that decision to the California Court of Appeal, which reversed the lower court decision and upheld the legality of the program today.

The California Constitution does not prohibit cities from allowing additional residents to vote in local elections, but rather explicitly allows charter cities like San Francisco to determine how school board members are elected or appointed.

For the first 150 years of our nation’s history, noncitizens were able to vote in many states in the United States. Fourteen American cities currently allow noncitizens to vote in municipal elections, and more than forty-five countries around the world allow resident noncitizens to vote in local, regional, or national elections.

Over the last several years, Deputy City Attorneys Jim Emery, John George, Yvonne Meré, Wayne Snodgrass, Tara Steeley, and professional staff Pamela Cheeseborough worked to defend the noncitizen voting program.

The case is James V. Lacy, et al., v. City and County of San Francisco, et al., California Court of Appeal, First Appellate District, Case No. A165899. The order can be found here.