Proposal Would Allow Non-Citizens to Vote in Portland Municipal Elections

One potential obstacle to a Maine community like Portland adopting such a measure is a Maine state law that makes non-citizen voting illegal

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In a matter of weeks, leaders examining Portland, Maine’s city charter may give final approval to a measure they have initially OK'd that would allow non-citizens in the city to vote in municipal elections.

"It’s a matter of justice for me, it’s a matter of inclusion," said Patricia Washburn, the commission member who first proposed the measure, during a Tuesday interview with NECN & NBC 10 Boston.

For Washburn, the matter is a direct way that she and others in Portland can make the city more equitable and inclusive without waiting for federal lawmakers to take action on new immigration policy.

"If we had an efficient, effective and affordable immigration system that would let people move through to citizenship in a timely way, we wouldn’t need this, but I can’t fix that," she said.

Right now, only a handful of cities and towns in the United States allow non-citizens to vote in municipal elections.

They include New York City and smaller communities like Montpelier and Winooski, Vermont as well.

One potential obstacle to a Maine community like Portland adopting Washburn’s measure is a Maine state law that makes non-citizen voting illegal.

According to Maine’s Attorney General’s office, allowing non-citizens to vote will violate that law, even if Maine’s constitution does not prohibit it.

Washburn is questioning this view and said the state law could also be changed.

During a public comment portion of a meeting on Washburn’s proposal last month, one man said he was concerned about a legal challenge, though he was otherwise supportive of Portland’s actions to aid asylum seekers and immigrants.

"If this passes, it will require a costly court battle, I don’t think that’s the right path forward, in general," he said.

Some members of the commission said they too had reservations.

"Unintended consequences and the wording of this makes me really hesitant," said commission member Shay Stewart Bouley.

Other members, like Nasreen Sheikh Yousef, an immigrant herself who became a U.S. citizen, were in enthusiastic support of the measure.

"I think it’s a great step for our immigrant community," she said.

In terms of what’s next for the proposal, the commission will decide on a final charter within the next several months.

After that, depending on legal challenges, the charter will be voted on during a city-wide election in November.

If Portland voters give it their OK, the earliest Portland would allow non-citizens to cast ballots is during municipal elections is in 2023.

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