AUGUSTA, Maine — A bill opening the door to immigrants and other noncitizens to vote in municipal elections is getting a frosty reception in some quarters.
Blasting the proposal, Maine Republican Party Chairman Charlie Webster didn’t mince words in calling on Mainers to urge their lawmakers to toss the bill and move forward with more pressing needs: solving the state’s budget and health care problems.
“This lamebrained proposal is an affront not only to any person who has gone through the process of attaining American citizenship so that they could have the right to vote, but to anyone who voted for legislators that pledged to act with their constituents’ best interests at heart,” he declared after a newspaper reported on the bill.
The proposal — sponsored by lawmakers representing cities with large immigrant communities — Sen. Justin Alfond, D-Portland, and Rep. Brian Bolduc, D-Auburn — would let communities choose whether to allow non-U.S. citizens to vote in municipal elections.
There’s a variety of legal Maine residents who are not U.S. citizens, including doctors, refugees, students, hockey players and more, said Alfond.
“I want to look at this,” Alfond told the Portland Press Herald. “Is there a way to give people in our communities a bigger way to be involved?”
Maine Secretary of State Matthew Dunlap said he doesn’t think Alfond’s proposal does any harm. Noncitizens couldn’t be included in the electronic, federally funded voter rolls, so a separate paper list of voters would have to be kept, he said.
“Whenever you get more people to participate, you add legitimacy to that process,” Dunlap said. “The voice of the public, I think, is extraordinarily important.”
Already, immigrants who are not citizens are allowed to vote in a number of communities across the U.S., said Ron Hayduk, professor of political science at the Borough of Manhattan Community College and author of the book “Democracy for All.”
The basic argument for allowing noncitizens to vote is that groups excluded from voting are more likely to be discriminated against, Hayduk said.
But Hans Von Spakovsky, a legal scholar at the conservative Heritage Foundation, said it’s a bad idea because “people who are here as residents are not people who have assimilated and become part of the American culture and the American society.”
Mohamud Barre, president of the Somali Culture and Development Association of Maine, said he’s concerned that many immigrants aren’t informed enough to vote.
“They don’t know what’s going on, they don’t speak English,” said Barre, who is originally from Somalia.
Eric Nkusi, executive director of the Intore Club, a Portland-based immigrant and refugee advocacy association, sees it differently. He said noncitizens living in Maine pay the same taxes and their children go to the same schools.
“Knowing how Mainers are very democratic and very good with their neighbors with us immigrants, I have no doubt that people in the counties and the cities would support that,” Nkusi said. “Why would they not support it?”