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The Death of Urban America: San Francisco Appoints 1st Noncitizen & CCP Operative to Election Commission

San Francisco Appoints 1st Noncitizen to Election Commission

‘I am deeply committed to ensuring that everyone, regardless of immigration status, has a seat at the table in shaping the future of our city.’

February 19, 2024 (Updated): The San Francisco Elections Commission has, for what is believed to be the first time in history, appointed someone who isn’t a U.S. citizen—who isn’t legally allowed to vote—to serve as an official.

The officer, Kelly Wong, was sworn in on Feb. 14, local news outlet KQED reported. It said that Ms. Wong, an immigrant rights advocate, is a native of Hong Kong who arrived in the United States in 2019 for graduate studies.

She was sworn in by Board of Supervisors President Aaron Peskin during a ceremony at San Francisco City Hall after winning unanimous support from the board.

“This appointment is a milestone for all immigrant and marginalized communities throughout SF,” Ms. Wong wrote in a LinkedIn post on Feb. 15. “Representation matters: thousands of immigrants living in the city hold stakes in politics and there’s no better way to have us be represented than to serve in leadership positions.

“I am deeply committed to ensuring that everyone, regardless of immigration status, has a seat at the table in shaping the future of our city.”

The appointment of a noncitizen to city boards, commissions, and advisory bodies was made possible in 2020 when voters passed a proposal by lawmakers to remove the standing requirement that candidates seeking office hold U.S. citizenship.

At the Feb. 14 ceremony, Mr. Peskin applauded Ms. Wong’s activism. “I’m very impressed by her commitment to enfranchising people who rarely vote, to educating people about the voting process, and to bring in noncitizens and get them the tools they need as they become citizens,” he told KQED.

The former resident of Hong Kong, which now belongs to China and recently saw mass pro-democracy protests over the people’s lack of true electoral representation, said she hopes to improve immigrant and non-English voter engagement in her new home city of San Francisco, which has a ranked-choice voting system. She also told KQED that one of her priorities would be to use resources to improve translations of voter materials.

“I’ve seen how language and cultural barriers prevent immigrants with limited English proficiency from fully exercising their right to vote,” Ms. Wong said.

Ms. Wong will join six other members of the civilian-led commission, whose job is to oversee policy and operations for the city’s Department of Elections.

As all member roles are unpaid, Ms. Wong said she would also continue her work for the progressive advocacy group Chinese for Affirmative Action—a non-government organization founded in 1969 whose mission is to protect the “civil and political rights of Chinese Americans and to advance multiracial democracy in the United States,” according to the group’s website.

She has worked for the group since 2022.

Chinese for Affirmative Action in 2016 supported other progressive advocacy efforts to further liberalize voting access, lobbying the government to change the law to allow noncitizens to vote in school board elections if their children attend a school in the district. Their efforts succeeded after challenges in the state’s courts.

Ms. Wong thanked the city’s immigrant rights commissioner, Sarah Souza—who arrived in the United States as an illegal immigrant child and was the first such person in California appointed to the San Francisco Democratic County Central Committee—for her successful campaign in 2020 to change the law and allow noncitizens to serve on local commissions and advisory boards.

“Without Sarah’s advocacy and perseverance, I wouldn’t have had the opportunity to represent immigrant voices and contribute to shaping the future of our communities,” Ms. Wong wrote in her post.

“To all immigrants in SF: I hope my appointment to the Elections Commission serves as a beacon of hope, showing that change is possible and your voices matter in policymaking. If I can do it, you can too.”

Vincent Pan, co-executive director of Chinese for Affirmative Action, also congratulated Ms. Wong.

He told KQED, “I’m hoping there will be a day where it won’t be as newsworthy that you have someone who’s an immigrant and a noncitizen involved in helping make the city run better, especially in a city where such a large percentage of the community is immigrants.”


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