The proposal in Portland to extend voting rights to noncitizens is the craziest yet to come out of Maine’s most liberal city.
The City Council has thankfully tabled the plan, but knowing Portland, it’s probably just a matter of time before the council capitulates to extreme left-leaning forces and resurrects the proposal once the current dust settles.
The folks pushing the idea – among them Councilor Pious Ali and Mayor Ethan Strimling – want to be inclusive and welcoming to noncitizen immigrants who are legally in the country but not yet full-fledged citizens. That’s admirable. But there’s a better way to do that than upending a representative democratic system that has historically granted citizens alone the ability to vote.
Proponents argue that noncitizens were able to vote locally before the 1920s but that an anti-immigration mood back then stripped them of that ability. The current proposal, they say, would continue to prevent noncitizens from voting in national or statewide races.
As Martin Sungoyo, a resident quoted by the Portland Press Herald who has a noncitizen uncle who desires to vote regarding his daughter’s education, said at a public hearing on the matter last week: “I do believe the city has a right to allow (noncitizens) to take part in the school decisions. It’s not like they’re going to vote for the governor or the Senate or the president.”
It’s funny how advocates of noncitizen voting are striating and prioritizing one level of government over another, as if local matters weren’t as important as national ones. This viewpoint is both perplexing and disturbing. All levels of government are important, and one could argue that local elections have the most direct impact on residents’ daily life.
Decisions made by leaders in the school department, town hall, public works garage, sanitary district and police/fire departments are more consequential than much of what Sens. Susan Collins and Angus King and Gov. Paul LePage do on a daily basis. King, Collins, LePage and, of course, President Trump may get more attention from the media, but local decision-makers have just as sizable an impact on our daily existence, and pocketbooks.
I’m sure many people who heard about this idea of noncitizen voting, which is already in practice in a dozen of the most liberal cities around the nation, were struck dumb by the notion. My initial reaction was one of, “I can’t believe they’re giving away the farm.” This is what American soldiers die for – the right to vote. This is what makes an American an American – the right to pick our leaders and determine the outcome of referendums. This is what guarantees our freedom. We vote for people who want to protect the Constitution and defend the country from outside enemies. We don’t allow outsiders a say in how we govern ourselves. Citizen-only voting is the basis of a self-governing republic. Folks need to become citizens first.
Proponents of noncitizen voting decry the time it takes to become a U.S. citizen. Yes, it’s a lengthy process. Yes, it’s an exclusive club. It requires effort and dedication. But those willing to put in the time and effort are those who really want it. And we only want those kinds of folks becoming Americans and eventual voters. We only want Americans determining America’s fate. We only want Portlanders determining Portland’s fate. All seem to agree we wouldn’t want a noncitizen to hold office, so why allow a noncitizen to vote?
And why limit noncitizen voting rights to only local races? If Strimling and Ali believe noncitizens are knowledgeable enough to vote in local elections, why not statewide or national races? It’s illogical. The irrational foundation for this proposal proves political incrementalism is at work. Ali and Strimling are starting out small by limiting their request to local elections. But more likely their long-range goal is to allow full voting rights to noncitizens. That’s scary, and they know the average voter wouldn’t allow for that initially.
We also hear reports of the many financial benefits immigrants receive, so it’s understandable liberal leaders who support these entitlements also feel voting is a right immigrants are owed as well. But while financial aid may be warranted for a short time, immigrants need to become citizens before earning the right to vote. They may avoid the hassle of becoming a citizen altogether if they are given all the rights up front.
This is a critically important issue. I agree with Portland resident Barbara Harvey who was quoted by the Press Herald saying: “My feeling is very strong about this … This is my hill to die on.” Well stated, Ms. Harvey.
John Balentine, a former managing editor for Sun Media Group, lives in Windham.