By Dr. Paul A. Williams
The citizens of Portland and San Francisco will vote November 2 on propositions that will grant non American citizens the right to cast a vote in upcoming elections.
The new measure is not without precedent.
In Chicago, legal residents who are not U.S. citizens already possess the right to cast ballots in school board elections.
Similarly, non-American citizens may vote in municipal elections within many districts in Maryland.
In San Francisco, the ballot question will ask voters whether they want to allow non-citizens to vote in school board elections if the immigrants are the parents, legal guardians or caregivers of children in the school system.
The Maine ballot will ask voters whether legal immigrants who are city residents but not U.S. citizens should be allowed to vote in municipal elections. If the measure passes, Maine’s non-citizens will be able to cast vote in school board, city council and other municipal elections.
The Maine League of Young Voters, which is spearheading the drive to enfranchise newly arrived immigrants, estimates there are 5,000 to 7,500 immigrants in Portland – - half of whom are not U.S. citizens.
Somali Muslims represent the largest group of Maine’s newly arrived immigrants.
At the Al-Amin Halal Market in Portland, Somali men eat hilib ari (goat) and converse in their native language.
Abdirizak Daud, 40, one of the Somalis, hasn’t been able to find a job. Some of his nine children have attended Portland schools, and he’d like to have a say in who’s looking over the school system and the city, he said.
“I like the Democrats. I want to vote for Democrats, but I don’t have citizenship,” he said.
Allowing noncitizens to vote fits with basic democratic principles, says Ron Hayduk, a professor at the City University of New York and author of “Democracy for All: Restoring Immigrant Voting Rights in the United States.”
Opponents of the measure say immigrants already have an avenue to cast ballots — by becoming citizens. Allowing non-citizens the right to vote dilutes the meaning of American citizenship, they say, and will open the floodgates to fraud and will unfairly sway election results.
“My primary objection is I don’t think it is right, I don’t think it is just, I don’t think it is fair,” Portland resident Barbara Campbell Harvey said.