A mere 11.35 percent of eligible voters turned in ballots for the two Los Angeles Unified School District board seats in the May 2017 election. In that runoff, Kelly Gonez won the right to represent District 6, which encompasses most of the Northeast San Fernando Valley, including Pacoima, Sun Valley, San Fernando and Sylmar.

Now Gonez wants to make sure more LAUSD parents take part in board elections, and she’s doing it by proposing that non-citizen parents (including undocumented ones) are allowed to do so.

“While the Trump Administration dehumanizes our immigrant community, we have an opportunity to stand up & say that immigrant parents’ voices matter. All parents care deeply about their children’s education & they should have an equal say in who represents them on our Board,” she tweeted on July 8, after submitting the “Expanding the Electorate to Raise the Voices of All Parents in Los Angeles Unified” resolution a week before.

LAUSD passed a resolution in 2017 to reaffirm that every school site in the district is a “safe zone” for students and their families, and that staff can seek assistance or information if they are faced with fear and anxiety about federal immigration enforcement efforts. Gonez sees her proposed resolution as an extension of that.

The resolution, to be voted on in August, would direct the Superintendent and the Office of General Counsel to conduct research and present a proposal for a measure to be placed on the November 2020 ballot to extend voting rights to all parents, legal guardians, or caregivers of a child residing within the boundaries of Los Angeles Unified to vote in elections for the Governing Board of the Los Angeles Unified School District;

“Resolved further, that the proposal include strategies for assuring the confidentiality of the right to vote and assuaging fears of retaliation due to immigration status; and, be it finally resolved, that the Superintendent shall present this research and proposed ballot language to the Board at a public meeting within 60 days,” reads the resolution.

A Potential Huge Electorate

If undocumented and legal resident parents are allowed to vote in LAUSD elections, it would mean a huge swath of new voters. Pro-immigrant group CARECEN estimates between 30-40 percent of the more than 600,000 LAUSD students come from mixed immigration families. That’s potentially an extra 180,000 to 240,000 votes.

One of those parents would be Maritza, a mother of two LAUSD students. One is about to enter the 4th grade, the other the 10th grade.

“That would be perfect because there are a lot of things happening that we’re not in favor of and we can’t vote,” said the Pacoima resident who asked not to reveal her last name.

She also thinks the views of undocumented parents are simply ignored because they can’t vote.

“It would give us the opportunity to be heard more,” she said, and added that things would change because “even if it was one more vote, it would matter.”

“We’re missing the vote of those of us who can’t vote,” she said.

Maritza, who is undocumented, said that if given the chance to vote in LAUSD Board Elections, she would willingly register, and believes many other parents in her situation would do the same.

“I think that with good information, many would register. But the information has to be good because we can’t do things in fear,” she said.

Other Cities Already Allow It

If the measure is approved, Los Angeles would join other cities that already allow non-citizens to vote in certain elections.

In November 2016, the same day Trump was elected President, San Francisco voters narrowly passed Proposition N, which allows non-citizen parents with children to register to vote in local school board elections beginning in November 2018.

However, in the midst of ongoing immigration fears, few registered to vote and fewer voted. According to Pacific Standard Magazine, only 65 non-citizens registered and sixty of them cast a ballot, despite a massive voter registration campaign that cost the County of San Francisco $252,832.58 (about $4,213.88 per vote).

Other cities have had better results, and have allowed non-citizens to vote for several years.

Chicago allows non-citizens to vote in local school council elections, which don’t require voter registration and are not citywide. And Takoma Park, MD, has allowed non-citizen residents to vote in City Council elections since 1992, according to media reports.

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