Boston City Council held its first hearing to consider giving non-citizens with legal status the right to vote in city elections on Tuesday, July 10.
WHDH 7 News covered the hearing. Boston City Council President Andrea Campbell called for the hearing and clarified it was only “a conversation, not a vote on an ordinance.”
Citing U.S. Census Bureau estimates, the official docket for the hearing notes that Massachusetts has one of the largest immigrant populations in the country, an estimated 1.1 million people, or 16.5 percent of the state’s population. The city of Boston itself has an estimated foreign-born population of 190,123, or 28.4 percent of the city’s population.
Boston has been a hub for immigrants and immigration since the 1820s, but the foreign-born population took a nosedive in the early 20th century, the docket says, due to “restrictive and discriminatory legislation.” After the Immigration and Nationality Act of 1965 overhauled the US immigration system, once again an increasingly diverse population began immigrating to Boston.
At the Tuesday hearing, officials emphasized that they were exploring the extension of voting rights to non-citizens only for local elections, not state or federal, and only to non-citizens with legal status, including legal permanent residents, DACA recipients, those with Temporary Protected Status and visa holders.
According to the National Conference of State Legislatures, currently three states allow non-resident voting in municipal or town elections and ten additional states allow non-resident voting in certain special district elections. Non-citizen voting is currently only allowed in city or local district voting. No state has extended non-citizen voting to statewide elections.
Boston 25 News noted that one of the few cities that allows non-citizens to vote is Tacoma Park, Maryland. Not only are legal residents allowed to vote, but also undocumented residents, and they can also run for local office. There are only about 300 non-citizens in Tacoma Park compared to Boston, where the non-citizen population is estimated to be at 48,000.
Campbell said this hearing was another step toward making Boston “more inclusive.”
The official hearing docket notes that Boston immigrants collectively contribute an estimated $116 million in state and local taxes and generate $2.3 billion to the region’s gross product.
As stated in the docket: “Immigrants with legal status who are seeking a pathway to citizenship, are prohibited from voting by state law and thus limited in playing an active role in the civic life of the City of Boston; and the purpose of our local government including the Mayor’s Office of Immigrant Advancement, is to ‘strengthen the ability of, diverse, cultural and linguistic communities to play an active role in the economic, civic, social and cultural life of the city of Boston,’ and to provide equitable access and opportunity for all residents.”
Campbell said the council is considering voting and other possibilities for civic engagement with non-citizens.
Brianna is an Emma Bowen Foundation Fellow with Next City for summer 2018. She's a rising senior at Penn State University, majoring in media studies. She intends to graduate in May 2019.