The Boston City Council approved a measure Wednesday that would allow people with “legal status” to vote in municipal elections, even if they are not American citizens.
The home rule petition was passed by an 8-4 vote. Mayor Michelle Wu and the state Legislature must approve the measure, and it still faces a long road toward implementation. If enacted, it would allow non-citizen immigrants who live in Boston and pay taxes to participate in the city’s elections. Wu’s office said Thursday that it was reviewing the petition.
Councilor Kendra Lara, who proposed the measure, spoke about her personal reasons for pushing this. When she first ran for public office, Lara described how her father campaigned on her behalf but could not vote for her.
“My father, although he is a 30-year legal resident of this city, could not vote for his youngest daughter. And his story is the story of thousands of legal residents in the city of Boston who work, pay taxes, raise their children, and participate in every way in strengthening the fabric of our city, yet cannot cast their ballot for the representatives who are making decisions about their daily lives,” Lara said during Wednesday’s meeting. It was her last as a city councilor.
Immigrants that have “legal status” make up more than 28% of Boston’s population, according to the measure’s sponsors. They pay an average of $2.3 billion in taxes annually.
At least 15 municipalities across America have given municipal voting rights to non-citizens, according to the sponsors. This includes San Francisco, New York City, and communities in Maryland and Vermont. In addition, Lara said that Massachusetts communities like Amherst, Cambridge, Newton, and Somerville have passed similar home rule petitions.
Councilors Frank Baker, Michael Flaherty, Ed Flynn, and Erin Murphy voted against the petition. Flaherty voiced concerns about the potential ramifications of putting this into effect.
“Boston’s growing diversity and level of community involvement is what makes our city great. However, there are and still remain legal concerns that we need to be mindful of when we talk about non-citizens voting,” Flaherty said.
Non-citizens may mistakenly register and vote in federal or state elections, he said, which would “seriously jeopardize” their ability to become full citizens. “I don’t know anything more devastating than that,” he added.
Councilor Gabriela Coletta spoke in favor of the measure, highlighting Boston’s history as a major destination for immigrants. Many of Coletta’s constituents in East Boston are legal, non-citizen permanent residents, she said.
Coletta said she would have liked to hear from others as this petition was being weighed, such as Secretary of State Bill Galvin’s office, the city’s Office for Immigrant Advancement, the Massachusetts Immigrant and Refugee Advocacy Coalition, and Project Citizenship.
City Council’s approval sends a powerful message, but Coletta said she was skeptical about the measure’s chances of winning votes on Beacon Hill.
“This docket is certainly a starting point, there’s no doubt about it. Understanding the context, however, it needs to be said that passage today would largely serve as a symbolic gesture in this moment in time,” she said.
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