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‘Fascinating’ San Francisco move unlikely in North Carolina

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Overseeing and creating policy in North Carolina’s county or state elections will not be done as is happening in San Francisco.

There, immigrant rights advocate Kelly Wong has been appointed to the city’s seven-member Elections Commission. She’s the first non-citizen chosen for the role since voters decided in 2020 to end the citizenship requirement for local boards and commissions.

Social media, not surprisingly, turned the move viral.

Patrick Gannon, spokesman for the state Board of Elections in Raleigh, wrote in an email to The Center Square, “Under North Carolina state law, members of the State Board of Elections and county boards of elections must be registered voters, and only U.S. citizens are eligible to register to vote.”

And yet, amid immigration forcing its way onto the 2024 ballot as an estimated 11 million people enter or live in the country illegally since January 2021, what took place in the Golden Gate City of California last Wednesday wasn’t completely novel and unique.

Chris Cooper, a political science and public affairs professor at Western Carolina University, wrote in an email to The Center Square, “This story highlights one of the consistently fascinating and at times vexing things about the United States election system.

“We don’t have one system, but rather 50 distinct systems that, when it comes to the presidential election, come together to create a single outcome. Some states have all mail voting; others don’t. Some states have long early voting periods; others have short early voting periods. Heck, North Dakota doesn’t even have voter registration at all!”

Cooper said the “patchwork of electoral systems” fit respective states. And, he added, “It also means that it’s confusing – particularly for people who move from state to state and may (incorrectly) expect the laws to remain the same.”

Steven Greene, a professor of political science at N.C. State University, told The Central Square in an email, “Honestly, there are plenty of naturalized immigrants who are registered voters and could effectively fill this role. It’s not at all clear why SF (or anyone else) would choose an ineligible voter for this type of position.”

Michael Bitzer, professor of politics and history at Catawba College, understands how unique it may seem. He also sees another angle on what is playing out.

“What San Francisco is doing is an example, I think, of the idea of federalism – the vertical division of power among the national, state, and local governments – and allowing for laboratories of democracy. If the voters decided to allow noncitizens to participate in their administrative process over elections, that conceivably is permitted, if it doesn’t conflict with either state or federal law.”

Dr. Andy Jackson, director of the Civitas Center for Public Integriy at the conservative-leaning John Locke Foundation in Raleigh, wrote about a recent vote in Congress. It’s called a disapproval resolution, in place under the D.C. Home Rule Act granting Congress power to stop laws inacted by the city.

The City Council approved noncitizen voting rights in November. The U.S. House of Representatives nixed it 260-162 on Feb. 9, though North Carolina Democrats Deborah Ross, Valerie Foushee and Alma Adams were for letting noncitizens vote in the D.C. elections. Democratic Reps. Don Davis, Kathy Manning, Wiley Nickel and Jeff Jackson, and all Republican Reps. Dr. Greg Murphy, Virginia Foxx, David Rouzer, Dan Bishop, Richard Hudson, Patrick McHenry and Chuck Edwards were not.

As for San Francisco’s decision and North Carolina, Jackson said he doesn’t envision such change coming here. Not even in some definitive liberal areas.

“Even if it were not illegal to appoint noncitizen election board members, I don’t think either party would take the political heat of nominating one,” Jackson wrote in an email to The Center Square. “The only exceptions might be in some of the more progressive counties, such as Buncombe, Durham, or Orange. But I don’t think they are at San Fransisco’s level of progressiveness yet.”

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