Amherst TM to take up measure allowing legal noncitizens to vote in local elections

Staff Writer
Thursday, March 09, 2017

AMHERST — An effort to allow legal permanent resident noncitizens to vote on local issues in local elections will come before Town Meeting again this spring.

The measure, endorsed by the Human Rights Commission, was last considered by Town Meeting four years ago, when it was supported by a 159-4 standing vote.

But so far local support for the measure has not translated into approvals from the state Legislature, which is necessary to make the home-rule petition a reality.

The commission’s sponsorship of the measure came after Precinct 1 Town Meeting member Vincent O’Connor presented the concept last month on behalf of longtime resident Vladimir Morales. Morales first brought the matter to the town’s attention in 1996.

O’Connor said Amherst is home to numerous people who are 18 and older who own homes or rent apartments and are affected by local decisions, but can’t vote because they aren’t citizens. These include some people affiliated with the University of Massachusetts, who have green cards while they are pursuing degrees.

Previous estimates show that in excess of 3,000 individuals may not be able to cast ballots, even though they are longtime residents.

Human Rights Commission Chairman Matthew Charity said in an email that, for him, creating this right is about community citizenship for people who live in Amherst.

“Because this is a matter of expanding the franchise to more of the people living in and contributing to our community, and because the Human Rights Commission is tasked with recognizing equal rights where they exist under law, it is a matter of equity to expand the law to recognize those in our community whose rights are limited based on national origin,” Charity said.

Even if approved by the Legislature, noncitizens wouldn’t be able to vote in state or federal elections, and possibly on matters involving federal and state money.

Megan Montgomery, a spokeswoman for Senate President Stan Rosenberg, said in an email that similar measures have been filed in previous sessions but have not yet passed the Legislature.

To win approval, the measures must be voted out of the committee they are assigned to with a positive recommendation, followed by votes in both the Senate and House and approval by the governor.

“To our knowledge, no other communities have similar laws on this matter,” Montgomery said.

Morales has argued that so-called “resident aliens” pay taxes, can be drafted for the military and are incarcerated, and until 1926 had the right to vote in national, state and local elections.

Scott Merzbach can be reached at smerzbach@gazettenet.com.