Non-Citizen Voting in Portland about to become a problem for all of Maine – here’s why

Official photo of Portland’s city council with Mayor Ethan Strimling.

AUGUSTA – The proposal to allow non-citizens the ability to vote in Portland is almost certain to require state lawmakers to take action if it passes. The proposed referendum, sponsored by Portland Mayor Ethan Strimling and City Councilor Pious Ali, will be up for a vote of the Portland City Council on Monday, August 13 at the city council meeting.

If passed by the city council, the proposal would go to referendum this November and could mean Portland becomes the first city in Maine to register non-citizens to vote. Councilor Pious Ali has predicted to Maine media outlets that the proposal will pass.

State law, however, lists citizenship in the United States as the first requirement to be eligible to vote in any municipal election in the state.

§111. General qualifications

A person who meets the following requirements may vote in any election in a municipality, including a biennial municipal caucus held pursuant to section 311. [2005, c. 387, §1 (AMD).]

1. Citizenship. The person must be a citizen of the United States.”

(Title 21-A, Chapter 3, Subchapter 2, General Qualifications)

Portland officials attempted to pass a non-citizen voting measure previously, but no Maine city has ever run the full gauntlet to put the policy into effect.

In 2009, Senate Justin Alfond introduced a bill that would have changed state law to allow non-citizen voting, but the proposal failed to garner enough votes to make it to Governor Baldacci’s desk. Alfond’s bill was given the constitutional green light by Attorney General Janet Mills, who is now running for Governor.

So while supporters of the Strimling/Ali proposal in Portland are eager to claim that the matter is just a local issue, the conflict with state law the city’s former Senator attempted to address will inevitably need to be dealt with, and is likely to land in the laps of the next Maine Legislature, Governor and Secretary of State after the November elections.

With so many issues in Augusta still unresolved going into November’s state elections, voters from across Maine will also have to take stock of their opinions on Portland’s non-citizen voting proposal. If it passes, it will almost certainly be a problem that state legislators and Maine’s next Governor will need to deal with immediately.

The Portland City Council meeting will take place tonight at Portland City Hall at 6pm. Five votes in favor of the proposal are required to send it to the November ballot.

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