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GOP lawmakers want to block non-citizens from voting, though state law already does

The Portland city council is moving forward with a public hearing on a proposal to allow non-citizens to vote in local elections -- but Republicans in the Legislature are trying to stop it.

AUGUSTA, Maine — The Portland city council is moving forward with a public hearing on a proposal to allow non-citizens to vote in local elections. 

Portland’s proposal will be the focus of a city council public hearing March 25, but Republicans in the Legislature are trying to stop it. On Monday, the Legislature’s Veterans and Legal Affairs Committee held its own public hearing on a proposed Constitutional amendment to restrict voting in any election to solely U.S. citizens. 

The bill sponsor, Rep. Billy Bob Faulkingham (R-Winter Harbor), and several others testified that citizenship should be a prerequisite for voting in any election, whether local, state or federal.

"It's one of the basic principles of our society that only US citizens vote in our elections," said Rep. Faulkingham. "The proposed bill is just one sentence long. Not much more needs to be said, really."

Two Maine residents who said they are naturalized U.S. citizens testified in support of the bill. Diana Maples of West Gardiner told lawmakers that allowing non-citizens to vote would be "a slap in the face" to those like her, who followed the rules to gain the benefits of citizenship.

But Portland mayor Ethan Strimling testified against the bill and defended his city’s interest in letting its growing number of immigrants vote.

"We need to be doing everything we can right now to welcome immigrants to our state," Strimling said. "And they ought to be able to participate at a municipal level in who is on the school board or city council. From my perspective, bringing people into our democracy is a good idea."

But there is a question about whether the debate or the bill are even needed.

Maine Attorney General Aaron Frey sent a letter to the Legislative committee, stating that state law already requires people to be citizens to vote. The letter, referring to state statute, reads, in part: "…This means municipalities are not currently able to adopt ordinances to allow non-citizens to vote in municipal election."

Mayor Strimling said the Portland Council will move ahead with a hearing and eventually vote on non-citizen voting. If it passes, they will then have to decide whether to challenge the state law.

The Legislative committee will decide whether to support or reject the constitutional amendment.