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Non-Citizen Voting Efforts Fail in San Francisco and Portland, Maine

A ballot question in Portland, Maine, that would have given legal immigrants the right to vote in city elections was voted down yesterday, with 52 percent voting against it and 48 percent voting in support. The measure would have allowed residents who had not yet obtained citizenship — but not undocumented immigrants — to vote for city council, school board and other local issues.

I wrote a story about the Portland effort last month, and supporters told me the initiative was based on making elections fairer to legal residents. It takes at least five years for immigrants legally in the country to become citizens, and can be much longer because of the difficulty of the citizenship test and steep naturalization fees. In the meantime, non-citizens pay taxes and use city services, and immigrant rights groups argued they should be allowed to impact the elections.

Opponents of the law, on the other hand, said voting should be limited to citizens; otherwise, legal residents would have little incentive to complete the naturalization process.

In San Francisco, a ballot provision to allow parents of public school students — including illegal immigrants — to vote in school board elections also failed, 54 percent to 46 percent. If it had passed, San Francisco would have joined Chicago as one of the few cities that allows undocumented immigrants to vote in school elections if their children attend school. Non-citizens are banned from voting in most of the country, except in a few Maryland cities. Early in the country’s history, non-citizens often voted.

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