COLUMBUS — Ohio Secretary of State Frank LaRose sent a directive to the Greene County Board of Elections (BOE) Thursday ordering it to reject non-citizen voter registrations.
The July 30 letter refers to a charter amendment that passed in the Village of Yellow Springs during the March 17 primary. Ballot language for the amendment reads: “Residents of the Village of Yellow Springs who are non-US citizens shall be electors and are eligible to vote for Yellow Springs local issues and elected officials pursuant to the home rule power and granted by this Charter.”
Voters approved the amendment, 891 Yes votes to 650 No votes, according to the official canvass by the BOE.
According to LaRose, the charter amendment is unconstitutional. The United States Constitution and the Ohio Constitution state that to be entitled to vote, a person must be a United States citizen, among other qualifications.
“Just when you thought 2020 couldn’t get any weirder, the village of Yellow Springs forces me as Ohio’s chief elections officer to restate the obvious – only US citizens may vote,” LaRose said in a release. “Incredibly, I’m being put in a position where I need to remind a village here in Ohio that a vote is a sacred right which many have fought and bled to protect – but only a right that is earned by birth or the oath of citizenship. American citizenship is precious. It has value and with it comes the right and responsibility of being a voter. I won’t tolerate any local government who tries to subvert our laws, devalue American citizenship, and sew chaos in our elections.”
In a Facebook post, village council president Brian Housh cited “home rule” powers as giving the village local authority in the matter. Housh said he and LaRose had communicated about the issue before it was placed on the ballot.
“I am outraged, and this reflects the lack of knowledge of precedent – San Francisco, Chicago and three municipalities in MD (a home rule state just like Ohio) are among the jurisdictions that have allowed non-US citizens to vote in local elections for 8 or more years,” Housh said. “Frank LaRose should have done his homework, and the state needs to follow Governor DeWine’s (and many others’) wisdom in noting that the local governments know what is best for their community members.”
According to LaRose, Ohio’s constitution states municipalities may only exercise home rule powers “as are not in conflict with the general laws.”
LaRose said because of laws already in place, any non-citizens who attempt to vote this fall in Yellow Springs may be committing a felony, “thereby inadvertently dashing their hopes of earning citizenship and even risking deportation.”
In an email to this newspaper, Housh said LaRose’s personal biases discourage voter participation, and in this situation, are an “abuse of power.”
“Clearly, LaRose thinks this is slam dunk, relying on xenophobic sentiments that are somewhat prolific but do not represent my Ohio and the state we all love,” Housh said. “Unlike our Secretary of State, the goal of YS is to enfranchise individuals who actively contribute to our community. Non-US citizens contribute to our community in terms of taxes, businesses, etc. The continual erosion of home rule by the Republican-led statehouse is making it incredibly difficult for local governments to protect their citizens.”
In his letter, LaRose directed the BOE to prohibit non-citizens from registering to vote; cancel voter registrations of any non-citizen residents of the village by Aug. 3; prohibit any non-citizen residents of the village from voting on Yellow Springs ballot issues or for candidates in any election administered by the BOE; and not include votes of any non-citizen residents of Yellow Springs in the tabulations, canvasses, or certifications of votes of any election administered by the BOE, even if the election is held solely in the village and the issues or candidates are limited solely to the village.
BOE Director Llyn McCoy said via email that the board’s position is to follow the directives of the secretary of state “until told otherwise by a higher authority (court).”
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