From left: Ald. Michael Rodriguez (22), Ald. Rossana Rodriguez-Sanchez (33), Ald. Silvana Tabares (23) and Ald. Andre Vasquez (40).
At a time when states across the U.S. are implementing unjust restrictions on the right to vote, we believe that we have an opportunity and obligation to expand the franchise in Chicago and Illinois. In the short term, we need a fully elected school board in Chicago. And in the only slightly longer term, we need to create a method for non-citizens to vote in school board elections across Illinois.
We stand frustrated but not surprised that voters in a school district like the Chicago Public Schools, where the overwhelming number of students are Black and Brown, continue to be disenfranchised as the only district in Illinois with an appointed school board. Referenda and public opinion polling continue to point to the overwhelming popularity of an elected school board in Chicago, but elected and civic leaders in Chicago have decreed such democracy off limits. Our neighbors across the city’s borders have real input, but our Chicago constituents do not. That’s patently unfair, and that fear of real input is what’s led states like Georgia and Texas, where voting limits have been enacted by reactionary state legislatures, to curb the voting rights of voters of color. We must do better in Illinois and in Chicago.
We agree with concerns publicly raised about the costs of elections and the appropriate representation. That’s why we support HB 2908 and SB 2497, elected school board bills that have districts where regular people can campaign door-to-door, get to know their potential constituents, and truly represent their communities. Smaller districts result in elections that cost less to be competitive. Districts, rather than citywide elections, ensure that not just big money candidates win, and that constituents can get to know their elected representative. Finally, a larger board ensures that Chicago’s diversity is represented and respected rather than rejected. DuPage County has roughly one-third the population of Chicago, and yet its county board has 19 members. The proposal put forth by HB 2908/SB 2497 is not extreme.
Finally, we also agree that all families we serve should have an opportunity to vote in school board elections. Schools are the sites of government that interact with more people than any other government body. Because non-citizens live across Illinois, that opportunity should be provided across the state. Once an elected school board in Chicago is passed, we will work to pass SB 1565, to ensure non-citizens can vote in school board elections. Nothing in federal law prohibits non-citizens from voting in state and local elections. Non-citizen voting already occurs in Maryland and San Francisco, for instance, and prior to the 1920s, non-citizen voting existed in Illinois as well. For those advocating for a voice for all parents, we suggest you endorse the existing legislation in SB 1565.
The time is now to pass a fully elected and representative school board to give all residents — and especially parents — the right to choose who will make decisions for their school district. We are asking you to support HB 2908 and SB 2497.
Michael Rodriguez is Alderman and Democratic Committeeperson of Chicago’s 22nd Ward.
Silvana Tabares is Alderwoman and Democratic Committeeperson of Chicago’s 23rd Ward.
Rossana Rodriguez-Sanchez is Alderwoman of Chicago’s 33rd Ward.
Andre Vasquez is Alderman of Chicago’s 40th Ward.
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