of what happened next continues to reverberate in Maine politics a decade
Senator Justin Alfond (D – Portland), the sponsor of the non-citizen voting bill, sent a letter to Attorney General Janet Mills asking her for guidance as to the constitutionality of the idea to allow non-citizens to vote in municipal elections.
In a letter
dated May 4, 2009, Mills wrote to Sen. Alfond and the members of the committee
that she “knew of no constitutional impediment to passage” of the bill,
essentially giving the committee the green light to move forward with the bill
if they thought it was good policy.
the public hearing was robust on both sides, with the side in support of
allowing non-citizens to vote stacked with liberal politicians and special
Notable among those testifying in support were the bill sponsor, Sen. Justin Alfond (D – Portland) along with:
Bolduc (D – Auburn)
Larry Gilbert (Mayor of Lewiston)
Ben Chin (Maine People’s Alliance)
Pious Ali (now serving on Portland City Council)
Justin Costa (now serving on Portland City Council)
Jenna Vendil (League of Young Voters)
opposition to the bill was largely from Maine citizens, with few special
interest groups or politicians weighing in.
The Maine Municipal Association weighed in to oppose the bill, but testified that if the Maine Legislature thought it wise to allow non-citizens to vote, they should pass the change for all state and local elections by abolishing the citizenship requirement through an amendment to the Maine Constitution.
Secretary of State Matt Dunlap’s office submitted testimony neither for nor against the bill, saying that the decision to allow non-citizens to vote was a “pure policy question for determination by the legislature”, but highlighting that the secretary of state’s office felt the proposal, if it became law would be better placed in Maine law under title 30-A than under title 21-A, which was where the original draft bill would have changed the law.
Dunlap’s office also testified that important to the process of allowing non-citizens to vote would be the maintenance of two separate voter files at the municipal elections.
Bellows, who is now a Maine State Senator, testified neither for nor against
the bill on behalf of the Maine Civil Liberties Union.
and Legal Affairs Committee would go on to vote against the proposal by a 12-1
margin, with only Rep. Diane Russell voting in favor of the bill, but the door
had been opened to non-citizen voting.
In Portland, the League of Young Voters, whose founder (and director until 2008) Justin Alfond, now had at least achieved a level of legal viability for their idea with the help of Janet Mills, took matters into their own hands.
pushed forward with a referendum to put a ballot question to Portland voters asking
them to authorize the city to register non-citizens and allow them to vote in
and their respective groups the League of Young Voters and the Maine People’s
Alliance would go on to learn that their efforts were for naught in that
referendum the following night, turned back by 52% of Portland voters who rejected
The public discussion around the issue would be quiet in coming years, but it wouldn’t die.
In 2011, a
public debate sprang up around the state’s same-day voter registration process,
and while a legislative change to end same-day registration was repealed by a
People’s Veto, the Maine Secretary of State conducted an investigation into
some of the claims around voter registration in Maine.
investigation found that two of the five non-citizens who had registered to
vote in Maine elections did so through a Maine Bureau of Motor Vehicles
application process, one had lived in Portland and one in South Portland.
non-citizen had registered to vote and cancel on the same day, and the fourth
non-citizen who registered to vote had done so through a process that the
Secretary of State could not determine.
non-citizen identified in the investigation was found to be a citizen of El
Salvador who had voted illegally in Maine in 2002, but then deported in 2006. The
sixth non-citizen identified in the investigation was found to be a citizen of
Peru who registered to vote in 2002 but, according to local records, had never actually
records in the state’s voter database (CVR) were investigated but officials
could not determine their citizenship.
while, the effort to allow non-citizens to vote in Maine’s local elections was
alive and apparently, waiting for a more favorable climate to return.
At an August 13th Portland City Council meeting, about a week after the Portland Board of Education approved the referendum in a split vote, the council voted to send the proposed charter amendment out to the city’s Legislative Committee to be studied rather than move forward with a vote on the question in the 2018 general election
City Council did so in part because some immigrant advocates raised concerns
about non-citizens facing legal consequences for ‘accidentally’ voting in
federal elections, which was a concern raised in 2009 legislative committee testimony
by Maine Secretary of State Matt Dunlap. Dunlap, however, raised the concern
for the integrity of Maine’s elections under state and federal law, not the
legal consequences faced by non-citizens for voting.
August of 2018, Governor Paul LePage entered the fray in Portland’s non-citizen
voting debate, using his weekly radio address to point to several state laws
that require a Maine resident to be a citizen before they can register to vote,
saying, “First, Maine law specifies that any person registering to vote must be
a citizen. It states “[a] person who meets the
following requirements may vote in any election in a municipality.” [Title
21-A ss. 111]
then lists citizenship as criteria number one–quote: “the person must be
a citizen of the United States.”
addition to this clear, basic statement, other state laws stipulate that
Portland cannot exempt local municipal elections from these registration
criteria by amending the City’s charter.
other words, “home rule” does not apply to voting
laws. [Title 30-A ss. 2501(2)]
state law allows any voter or election official to challenge a cast ballot, and
lists the improper registration of a non-citizen
as grounds for a challenge. [Title 21-A ss. 673]”
would go on to say about Strimling, “Rather than pursue yet another politically
correct boondoggle in his constant attempts to attract media attention, I asked
Mayor Strimling to focus on real issues where municipalities and the state can
work to prevent people from getting hurt.”
the issue of Strimling’s non-citizen voting push, LePage asked, “If the
government gives non-citizens everything it gives a citizen, like welfare and voting, why
should newcomers become citizens? Is welfare all we have to attract newcomers?”
On one side of her political base, Mills needs to keep faith with rural, blue collar Democrats who voted for her on a promise that she was a moderate Democrat willing to work across the aisle for the greater good. On the other side of Mills’ base she has the city of Portland’s progressive voters and elected officials, along with a flotilla of liberal advocacy groups that certainly want her to support Portland’s efforts to allow non-citizen voting.
that Attorney General Janet Mills provided in 2009 to supporters of non-citizen
voting with her legislative testimony appears to have carried all the way through
to confront her as an early challenge in a new chapter of her political career.
During the 2018 campaign for Governor, Mills said she did not support allowing non-citizens to vote, but it remains to be seen how she will react to a constitutional amendment to forbid the practice.
Mills will likely have to choose between siding with Republicans and moderate Democrats to preserve Maine’s local elections for United States citizens, or throw in with her progressive base and groups such as the Maine People’s Alliance and allow Portland to blow the doors wide open to non-citizen voting in local elections.
hearing for Rep. Billy Bob Faulkingham’s proposal to amend the Maine
Constitution to forbid non-citizen voting in local elections will be held on
March 11th by the Maine Legislature’s Veterans and Legal Affairs
The Portland City Council’s Legislative Committee currently has four meetings scheduled from March 18th to April 1st, but no agendas for the meetings have yet been published.