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Portland's Non-Citizen Voting Proposal Won't Be On November Ballot

Robbie Feinberg
Maine Public
Grace Valenzuela, with Portland Public Schools, speaks in favor of the referendum Monday evening on behalf of Portland Superintendent Xavier Botana.

Portland voters won’t get to decide this fall on whether to allow non-citizen legal residents to vote in the city’s local elections. The Portland City Council voted Monday night to send a potential ballot question to a local council committee instead of to voters, saying the measure still needed substantial work.That decision came after dozens of Portland residents spoke at a public hearing on the issue. A majority supported the proposal. But immigrant advocacy groups warned that if the measure passed, it could lead to unintended legal consequences.

Julia Brown, an attorney with Portland’s Immigrant Legal Advocacy Project, told the council that if non-citizens accidentally voted in state or national elections, instead of only local races, they could potentially be at risk for deportation or jail.

“It is critical that before implementing non-citizen voting, the city understand and address all the legal and privacy considerations,” Brown said.

While Brown said she supports the proposal, she said it needs to be partnered with a campaign to educate poll workers and new voters on the issue.

Sending the proposal to a council committee means it likely won’t be voted on by Portland residents until at least next year. Mayor Ethan Strimling, who backed the original proposal, said that he was disappointed in the long wait.

“We could now be over two years out before we extend these rights that I believe the people of this city deserve and want,” Strimling said.

The proposal would have made Portland one of only a small number of cities in the United States that allows legal non-citizen residents to vote.