Aliens voting rights in the U.S.A.
 Non-citizens (aliens) voting rights in Massachussets

Non-citizens (aliens) voting rights in Massachussets - the debate in the City of Newton & Reports/04062004report.htm

April 7: Programs & Services; PS&T; Public Facilities Continued
April 12: Finance; Zoning & Planning Page 91
April 13: Land Use (Hearings and Working Session) Tuesday, April 6, 2004
7:45 PM, Newton City Hall
To be reported on



#171-04 ALD. HESS-MAHAN requesting home rule legislation authorizing local voting rights for permanent resident aliens residing in Newton.


Chairman Johnson explained that Programs and Services does not have to hold
Public Hearings on the following three items. However, as Chair, Ald. Johnson
believes that when there is a proposal to make some substantive changes to the City
Charter, that it is only fair that citizens have input. She mentioned that the “TAB”
had made an error in reporting that item #171-04 had been approved by the
Programs and Services Committee. The wording of the ordinance had been
approved but the item itself has not been approved by the Committee. The reason
for the Public Hearing is to gather public input prior to a committee vote.

#171-04 ALD. HESS-MAHAN requesting home rule legislation authorizing local voting rights for
permanent resident aliens residing in Newton.
ACTION: HELD 5-0 (Sangiolo, Parker not voting)

NOTE: Background: Ald. Hess-Mahan explained this is a proposal requesting Home Rule
legislation authorizing local voting rights for permanent resident aliens residing in
Newton and allowing the right to vote in local elections to people who are lawfully
admitted to this country on a permanent basis but are not yet citizens. In order to be able
to vote in the state of Massachusetts you need to be 18 years of age, a resident of the
municipality in which you are seeking to vote and also a United States citizen. However,
since this a home rule state, it is possible through home rule legislation to seek an
exception for Newton to allow non-citizens to vote in local elections.

At the last meeting, the Programs and Services Committee came up with language that
tried to effectuate what it was that Ald. Hess-Mahan was proposing and it was made very
clear that what we were seeking was local voting rights for those who had been lawfully
admitted for permanent residence in the United States and who meet all qualifications
except for United States citizenship and those residents may have their names entered on
a register of qualified permanent resident alien voters.

It seemed to Ald. Hess-Mahan that if a person owns property in Newton, lives here,
works and pays income taxes and is affected in their every day lives by the decisions that
local elected officials make, they would have a stake in how the community is run.
Newton is a community that is intentionally inclusive and prides itself on its diversity and
it seems unfair as far as elections go. Ald. Hess-Mahan wanted to make perfectly clear
that this would only be for local voting rights such as Board of Aldermen, Mayor’s
office election, School Committee and the Newton Highland Neighborhood Council.
Ballot questions such as an override would be included. The number of people affected
would be between 2500 and 3000. One out of five people living in Newton are
immigrants from other countries. Most of them do become citizens, but it is a long and
arduous process.

Why is this being proposed? Ald. Hess-Mahan said he proposed this item because when
he was running for election last year, many of his friends who happened to be immigrants
asked if they could vote for him. Some came back to him and said they found they could
not vote because they were not United States citizens. In a number of other cities around
the country, including municipalities in Maryland, New York and Chicago, non-citizens
have been allowed to vote. They all had slightly different rules regarding residency, etc.
but the bottom line was if you wanted to vote for the local School Board, School
Committee, City Council, Board of Aldermen, Board of Selectmen, in those particular
places you were able to vote.

What is home rule legislation? President Baker explained that the Massachusetts
Constitution has a “home rule” provision that gives cities and towns independent
authority over certain matters unless the state legislature has taken away that authority in
a particular area. The legislature has passed election laws that apply to voting rights in
local elections; however, a city or town can seek an exception through a home rule
petition, which is a request to the legislature to pass a “special act.” Ald. Parker added
that a home rule petition is really “special legislation” asking for an exemption from what
would ordinarily be allowed under state law.

What is a permanent resident alien? For these purposes, a permanent resident alien
means the same thing as someone who is lawfully admitted for permanent residence in
the United States. It is the understanding of Ald. Hess-Mahan that you can come to this
country legally without being lawfully admitted for permanent residence. In order to
become a permanent resident alien, a person would have to meet certain qualifications,
including, among other things, being lawfully admitted and showing intent to stay.
Immigration Attorney Rodney Barker addressed the question regarding the issuance of
green cards. He said the only people who get green cards are permanent resident aliens
and those who marry United States citizens.

Opinions of Members of the Public
Kathleen Coll, 20 Fairmont Ave. Cambridge She is Director of Women Studies at
Harvard, and the parent of two children in the Cambridge Public Schools. Ms. Coll has
only lived in Cambridge for six years, but immediately after arriving in town was eligible
to vote in local elections. Her daughters go to school in a city where one in three is from
an immigrant home. She wanted to share the fact that Amherst was the first town to
introduce Home Rule Petitions similar to Newton. Cambridge introduced their bill two
full legislative cycles ago and is now ready to enter their third. The election laws
committee and the state house have passed almost no laws out of their committee. There
presently is in the House Council’s Office enabling legislation being drafted that would
allow cities and towns to decide whether to permit non-citizens to vote in local elections.
Greater Boston Legal Services compiled a list of the status of 22 different kinds of legal
immigrants that are not legal permanent residency status. One reason that more than 22
states at one time or another allowed non-citizens to vote was they thought this was the
best way to promote citizenship. If you get people who are immigrants engaged in local
politics, that is the best way to make people feel like it actually matters to participate in
local politics in this country. One thing to keep in mind, Ms. Coll said that historically
there isn’t a privileged link between citizenship and voting, not here and not in other
liberal democratic societies. Ireland will let any immigrant who settles in their country
vote as soon as they settle in the municipality regardless of whether they are citizen or
not; the same is true in Australia and New Zealand. Ms. Koll noted that the first member
of the U.S. military to die in Iraq in the line of duty was not a United States citizen. He
was a Latin-American who had permanent residency but was not yet a United States

Rodney Barker of 49 Woodcliff Road. He said he was interested in this for many years
as he was a lawful permanent resident but not a citizen. He lived in Newton for many
years paying taxes, sending his children to Newton Schools, etc. but couldn’t vote. He
felt he was basically disenfranchised. Eventually he became a citizen. The nature of the
lawful permanent resident is partly intent. You have to show when you get the card or
visa that you intend to remain and live in the United States. If you leave the United
States for more than six years, you have to prove that you are still permanent. If you
leave for twelve months, the government can take your card away. If someone is a
lawful, permanent resident, they are by their nature and by law a resident and permanent.
He stressed that this bill before the board is only for lawful permanent residents. Usually
it is a five year wait to become a citizen unless you marry a U.S. citizen. To become a
citizen, there is a simple test consisting of ten questions and six must be answered
correctly. Ald. Fischman questioned if it would be easy for the Election Commission to
recognize an eligible person. Mr. Barker explained it would be quite clear. President
Baker asked about the percentage of permanent resident aliens and Ald. Hess-Mahan
responded that there are between 2500 and 3000 Newton residents who are permanent
resident aliens who are otherwise eligible.

Tom Sheff, 454 Dudley Road. Mr. Sheff read the first eight words of the l5th, l9th and
25th amendment, “The right of citizens of the United States.” He continued to say that it
specifies citizens of the United States and also says a right which is a privilege, a
privilege that the American citizens have that others do not have. In his opinion, we lose
that right if we let this go. If this passes he feels that possibly in 30 years, it could be
agreed to make non-citizens vote in national elections. He said he does have sympathy
for the immigrants, but when voting rights are considered, he felt we have to take a look
at the ramifications of our decisions. In his opinion non-citizen voting is a bad concept
because it would remove an incentive for becoming a U.S. citizen. He continued to say
that the essence of citizenship is the right to vote and extending voting rights to noncitizens
eliminates the last distinction between people who have accepted permanent
citizenship and those who haven’t.

David Guberman, 185 Oliver Road. Mr. Guberman said he was broadly sympathetic to
the proposal. He felt that an oath of allegiance to the United States really doesn’t speak
to whether someone does or doesn’t have a stake in what happens in Newton and perhaps
an interest in the common welfare of the community. With respect to the specific
proposal that in one sense it is too restrictive and in another sense felt it was not
restrictive enough. Simply by right of citizenship, Mr. Guberman said he could move to
another community and in a few weeks be entitled to vote without having any particular
stake even if he knew he would be leaving shortly. It seemed with respect to non-citizens
that are not able to enjoy that right to vote that it is legitimate to limit an imposition of
one or two year residency requirement so that would be clear that we are talking about
people who have a stake in the community on a continuing basis. Mr. Guberman felt the
proposal in its current formulation is not restrictive enough. On the other hand, it is too
restrictive in requiring that the non-citizen be a permanent lawful resident alien.

Ald. Hess-Mahan asked for clarification if his suggestion was for two-year residency for
all registered voters; citizen or non-citizen or just for non-citizens. Mr. Guberman
responded that the constitution doesn’t allow the imposition of a residency requirement
of that length for citizens, but where we are talking about people who don’t have a
constitutional right to vote, they don’t have a constitutional right to vote in the same
terms as citizens who may be transiently in the city.

Rudy Riedl, 34 Waterston Road. He had concern that if this passes, the same would
apply to national elections.

Tim Snyder, 25 Alden Place. Mr. Snyder wanted to speak in favor of the proposal. He
noted that when he tried to encourage people to register to vote, they couldn’t register
because they were not citizens. It is very difficult to build the fabric of a democratic
community if large portions have no stake in participating in that process.
Keith Hatfield, 29 Allen Avenue. Mr. Hatfield wanted to clarify that permanent resident
aliens over l8 have to register for selective service and that they would be subject to a
draft. Services/2005/1-19-05 programs&services report.pdf


#171-04 ALD. HESS-MAHAN requesting home rule legislation authorizing local voting
rights for permanent resident aliens residing in Newton.
ACTION: APPROVED 3-0-1 (Baker abstaining)
NOTE: The Committee was joined for this discussion by Gayle Smalley of the Law
Department and Peter Karg of Elections.

Background: At the time of our last discussion there were two major areas for
discussion that Ald. Hess-Mahan needed to address. They were
1. a discussion of this item with the Election Commission
2. the question of whether this would enable permanent resident aliens who can
vote to run for local election as well.

Election Commission: Ald. Hess-Mahan reported that he spoke with the
Election Commission concerning the logistics of a special list for this type of

Mr. Karg said that Ald. Hess-Mahan came in and spoke to the Election
Commissioners on January 6th and took many questions as to how the process
would work procedurally. There was also discussion regarding the type of
process to be set up which would include registration and some type of manual
list system. Presently there is a central voter registry maintained by the state. At
the end of each election, lists are scanned in (each name has a respective bar code)
to record voter activity. Because non-citizens are not included on the central
registry, lists of permanent resident aliens voting in local elections would have to
be compiled manually. Ald. Sangiolo noted that after the first list, couldn’t each
voter be assigned a bar code. Mr. Karg said that every community in the
Commonwealth uses the central voter registry which does not include noncitizens.

Ald. Sangiolo further asked why couldn’t communities who were
adopting this permanent resident alien voting develop their own system. Mr.
Karg responded that the state would not allow us to enter non-citizen voters in
their system. Ald. Sangiolo felt it would be simple to develop a system for
Newton. Chairman Johnson noted that resident aliens are included in the annual
city census and felt that from a technology perspective, it would not be a big
problem to set up a system.

Chairman Johnson concluded that there was no vehement objection by the
Election Commissioners and Mr. Karg agreed. President Baker clarified that the
policy question is strictly in our court.

Eligibility of permanent resident aliens to run for local office if they are given
the right to vote in local elections: Ald. Hess-Mahan noted that Ald. Baker had
questioned if someone could vote would be eligible to run for office. The
response was yes. Part 1, Article 9 of The Massachusetts Constitution requires
that “all elections ought to be free; and all the inhabitants of this Commonwealth
having such qualifications as they shall establish by their frame of government,
have an equal right to elect officers, and to be elected, for public employments.”

Decisions interpreting this constitutional provision were pretty clear that if you
can vote in an election, you can run for office. The other issue was the meaning
of “inhabitant.” Inhabitants include all people residing in Massachusetts cities and
towns, not just citizens. The Massachusetts Constitution requires that all
inhabitants of cities and towns, including non-citizens, be counted in the census.

Ald. Hess-Mahan noted that with respect to the policy debate about fairness, if
you think back to pre Civil War, there were African-Americans that were not
allowed to be citizens but they were counted as three-fifths of a person for
purposes of representation in Congress. Similarly, today, in Massachusetts,
resident non-citizens cannot vote in local elections but are counted for purposes of
representation in the state legislature which he thinks is unfair.

Chairman Johnson asked if there was any risk in comparison to a citizen who was
elected and lost his/her voting privilege versus a permanent resident alien and has
his or her voting privileges taken away if they are gone for a period of time. Ms.
Smalley said there was no provision in our charter to get rid of elected officials
during their term of office. Ald Hess-Mahan said he felt the answer was in the
section that stated that all inhabitants shall have the equal right to elect and hold
office so if someone who is a citizen loses their voting rights the same rule would
apply to permanent resident aliens

Voting rights at the state and national level: Another concern people may have
is that allowing local voting rights for non-citizens now would mean that the next
thing would be to allow non-citizens to vote in state and national elections. In the
State Constitution, there is a specific provision which requires that you must be a
citizen to vote for a state or national office. Accordingly, granting non-citizens
voting rights in a state or federal election in Massachusetts, would require a state
constitutional amendment. .

Home Rule Legislation Wording (see attached): The Committee reviewed prior
language and Chairman Johnson noted in Section 2 that rules were referred to and
she was looking for clarification for the type of “rules.” Ms. Smalley said one
issue would be that permanent status can change and might require voters to come
in and bring a copy of the documentation every so many years. There would be
many practical arrangements in order to implement this as well as authority to say
the right to vote is still contingent to registering this far in advance. In our usual
registration, we are using a comprehensive set of state rules. The Election
Commission would have to put some procedure in place.

Committee Member’s Opinions
President Baker feels that citizenship is the best qualification and is cautious
about considering this docket item.
Since it often takes so long for citizenship, Chairman Johnson said that it would
be encouraging to permanent resident aliens rather than discourage them if they
could have some impact on elections. She continued to say that this item is
worthy of discussion at board level and moved approval.

Ald. Baker noted that people pay taxes to all levels of government and that by
itself does not give the right to vote. He agrees that there are good arguments for
this but was not ready to join his colleagues and voted to abstain.
Ald. Hess-Mahan added the following information: according to the 2000 Census,
there are approximately 15,120 people who are foreign born and live in Newton;
there were 6,051 foreign born who are still not citizens either because they 
haven’t lived here long enough or had not completed the citizenship process.
Thus, a little over 9,000 foreign-born residents did become citizens. Statistics
show that the vast majority of permanent resident aliens who come to this country
become citizens eventually. & Services/2006/02-08-06prog&serv report.pdf


#171-04 ALD. HESS-MAHAN requesting home rule legislation authorizing local voting
rights for permanent resident aliens residing in Newton.
Item recommitted by Full Board on February 7, 2005
NOTE: Ald. Hess-Mahan has spoken to Election Commissioner Peter Karg and Associate
Solicitor Gayle Smalley at length regarding Ald. Vance’s proposed amendment. Neither Mr.
Karg nor Ms. Smalley were present at the meeting. The proposed amendment would limit local
voting rights to resident legal aliens who have applied for citizenship.. When Ald. Hess-Mahan
went before the Election Commission there were several concerns. The first one was how many
people would this involve. The rough numbers used were 2500 non citizens, who are permanent
resident aliens in Newton who are of voting age. Presuming they have lived here for five years,
roughly one-sixth of those would be eligible even to apply for citizenship and not all of them
would. This would result in only a small amount of people being able to vote and would involve
a large amount of paper work.

Ald. Hess-Mahan said there is a piece of enabling legislation that is presently before the House
of Representatives which would allow cities and towns to opt in for local voting rights for noncitizens.
At this point, the Secretary of State’s Office provides all the support and voter lists, etc.
for cities and towns and is based on people who are citizens. Information for non-citizens is also
available. When state senate and state rep seats are apportioned, it is based not on the number of
citizens but the number of resident included in the census (including non-citizens). The
Secretary of State’s Office has the information to create non-citizen voter lists but is not required
to do so. A main concern is the burden imposed on the Election Commission staff and
volunteers at each polling place if the proposed amendment were approved, given the additional
paperwork and the relatively small number of voters who would be involved.

Ms. Smalley told Ald. Hess-Mahan that the Secretary of State, which oversees local elections,
were unlikely to approve a separate polling place for all eligible non-citizens to vote in local
elections because it runs counter to the intention of state election laws that all voters can vote in
the polling place for their ward and precinct. In discussion with Ms. Smalley it was noted that
the structure of the election laws was not to create a special for class of voters with different
voting rights. For example, the Secretary of State’s office would not be willing to do create a
separate polling place only for disabled people. The smaller group of people that would benefit
from this, the more cumbersome it becomes for the City to handle. Another issue is proving that
you have applied for citizenship. To prove that you are a permanent resident alien, you can show
your green card. Proving you have applied for citizenship is somewhat more difficult. Another
issue is voter fraud. If you are a permanent resident alien or if you are applying for citizenship,
if a non-citizen tries to vote when he or she is not legally allowed to vote, deportation can occur.
President Baker said he could not support the item as it is currently framed. Chairman Johnson
noted that she does support this as written.

The Committee voted to hold.