Testimony Before Portland City Council on Noncitizen Voting


[wpvideo P3VyfJcb ] I want to narrow the discussion down to what this is really about. This not a measure about citizenship. This is a measure about residency and domicile. This is about what it means to be a Portland resident, a neighbor, and a member of our community.

We’re not talking about voting at the Federal or State level. We’re talking about voting at the local level. Voting on school budgets. Voting for Portland elected officials and the accountability that comes with it. Voting on Portland initiatives such as affordable housing, homelessness, and equitable and sustainable development.

I believe strongly that those who live within city limits, who have obtained domicile status, ought to have the right to vote on local issues. And I mention domicile status because I have heard folks allude to out-of-staters who live here three months out of the year or those who have kids in our schools but live in another town.

The common law concept of domicile is baked into Maine’s definition of “residence” as it relates to voting, and defines “residence” as “that place where the person has established a fixed and principal home to which the person, whenever temporarily absent, intends to return.” So residence for our purposes is that place we all call home. Portland. Where we plant our roots, raise our kids, where we work, live, and play.

History also shows us that voting has less to do with citizenship and more to do with who gets to sit at the top and create a community and country in their image. As one academic noted, “ In the colonial United States, a voter had to be at least 21, white, male, with property, but not necessarily a US citizen. Non-citizens exercised the right to vote, and in some cases even held office, in as many as 40 US states between the 1770s and the end of World War I. For most of this period, non-citizen voting was seen as a means to train newcomer white men to be good citizens and prepare them to participate in national elections after naturalization, as ‘Americans in waiting’ (Motomura 2006, in Song 2009, p. 612).”

Overtime noncitizen voting eroded as black and brown and southern european immigrants came and Nativism, Xenophobia, and Racism took hold. My question is: Why can’t we take that same reasoning used for northern, white europeans and apply it here - to black and brown immigrants? Our immigrant neighbors are “Americans in waiting” and what better way to prepare them for citizenship than by engaging them in local decision making and allowing them to vote on local issues.