Illegal immigrant voting a reality in some states
By John Hilliard
The MetroWest Daily News (Framingham, MA), April 9, 2009
While voting rights for non-citizens sparks controversy here, other states allow residents without U.S. citizenship a chance to vote in some elections.
In Takoma Park, Md., non-citizens have been able to vote in local elections since March 1992, said the city clerk, Jessie Carpenter.
'The intention (was) to provide all the residents of the city the opportunity to vote in city elections,' said Carpenter.
City officials ask for a residents' citizenship status when they register to vote, and those without U.S. citizenship are registered in a separate voting roll from the other voters, she said.
A few other Maryland communities allow non-citizen voting, but Takoma Park, a city of 18,000 with a large immigrant population from Central America and Africa, is the largest of them, she said. Non-citizens vote can vote for mayor, city council and on ballot questions, she said.
Maryland law gives cities and towns leeway to determine rules for local municipal elections, she said, allowing them to decide for themselves whether to allow non-citizen voting. Because Maryland school committees are county-based, they fall under state election laws which require U.S. citizenship to vote in state and federal elections, she said.
Despite allowing non-citizens the right to vote for years, turnout among non-citizens hasn't factored much in local elections.
'We do not have a lot of non-citizens voting in local elections,' said Carpenter. 'We'd like to change that. We like to do as much outreach as we can.'
Chicago and San Francisco allow non-citizen residents to vote for those cities' school boards, and last month, a Maine state legislator proposed allowing non-citizens to vote in municipal elections there.
At least two Massachusetts communities – Amherst and Cambridge – approved measures that would allow non-citizen voting, but neither was implemented because the Legislature failed to act on them. (Massachusetts law requires voters to be U.S. citizens, and those communities' voting measures would need an exemption approved by state lawmakers.)
Amherst's town manager, Laurence Shaffer, said his town's 2003 Town Meeting decision was a 'statement of values' that recognized that non-citizen residents who live in the town are affected by local decisions, and should have a role in that process.
The measure didn't make a distinction between non-citizens living legally in the U.S. and illegal immigrants, he said.
Voting rights have always 'been expanded rather than retracted. It's (an) extension of democracy and immigration,' said Shaffer.
In Cambridge, the City Council voted a similar measure in 2003, according to the city's Web site.
Eva A. Millona, executive director of the Massachusetts Immigrant and Refugee Advocacy Coalition, said the group appreciated Richardson's initial support of voting rights for non-citizens. The group, which represents about 1 million immigrants, including at least 250,000 green card holders, testified in support of a 2007 bill that would have allowed some voting rights in local elections.
But Millona said the voting issue is not a priority for the group, as it has a full agenda – such as backing in-state public college tuition rates for non-citizens and domestic violence prevention programs. The group doesn't support offering voting rights to illegal immigrants, she said.
'When it comes to voting rights with undocumented immigrants, that's where we draw the line,' said Millona.