Election Board preps for changes after noncitizen voting passes

The Hyattsville Municipal Building

BY HELEN PARSHALL — The day after the Hyattsville City Council’s passage of the noncitizen voting amendment, the Board of Supervisors of Elections met to discuss innovative strategies to expand election turnout now that the pool of eligible voters has grown.

The new amendment, passed Dec. 5, allows for both noncitizen voting as well as implementation of same-day voter registration.

Individuals who have been residents of Hyattsville for 30 days can now register to vote provided the individual does not claim the right to vote elsewhere in the United States, and has not been found by a court to be unable to communicate a desire to vote, according to the Dec. 5 city council agenda item report.

The noncitizen voting aspect of the amendment will take effect on Jan. 24, 2017. The same-day voter registration piece of the legislation will not take effect until 2019.

With this new pool of qualified voters, the City of Hyattsville must now establish its own voter registry that is separate of both the Prince George’s County and state voter databases.

“Obviously this has a large impact on the rules and procedures of the election board. The passage of the amendment changes the work significantly,” said Hyattsville City Clerk Laura Reams.

“They have to develop a city-only voter registration process and a city voter registration application. It requires an enhanced focus on outreach efforts as we also have to update all election documents and materials for the May 2017 election,” continued Reams.

The Dec. 6 meeting was the first chance for the board to process the amendment’s effect on the work ahead before the next election.

The board is looking to nearby Takoma Park’s example to act as a guide in creation of the new city voter registration database, as the city of Hyattsville has not had its own database in several years.

“I think we can take what their framework is and use it as a base to work from,” said Reams.

The Hyattsville Board of Supervisors of Elections oversees city elections, providing feedback and brainstorming new strategies for community engagement in the political process.

“We supervise the elections from the very beginning until the very end,” said Lisa Pineda, a member of the board for over 15 years.

“Creatively engaging people is absolutely a part of what we do,” added Greta Mosher, chair of the Hyattsville Board of Supervisors of Elections since 2010.

The meeting also covered a brainstorming session for new expansion of city advertisement and outreach efforts, both with regards to voter registration as well as polling places, as strategies for increasing voter turnout in 2017.

The board hopes to partner with local organizations that work within immigrant communities and to increase targeted outreach in local high schools to expand voter registration for the coming cycle.

The May 2017 election will be the first election in which noncitizens are eligible to vote, and a still new experience for many 16- and 17-year-old residents, who were first eligible to vote in the 2015 election.

“We have to catch people when they’re coming home, and think about where is it convenient. Where do people go when they come home from work?” said Reams.

Ideas offered ranged from outside metro stops and grocery stores to the Hyattsville branch of the library as the board considered what types of locations would be most accessible to the majority of city residents.

“I think it’s fair to say that the board’s goal — and my goal — is to increase engagement and improve voter turnout in the city,” said Reams.

The turnout for the 2015 city elections was 12 percent of Hyattsville voters, and the board is looking to increase that percentage in the 2017 election.

“We’re always looking to improve the turnout, and we’re going to have to be creative,” said Mosher.