Boston Council Considers Immigrant Voting Law

The Boston City Council is considering a new resolution that would allow immigrants with “legal status” to vote in local elections, sparking a heated debate among city officials, immigration advocates, and election officials. The proposal, introduced by Councilor Kendra Lara, has gained support from the majority of councilors and was discussed during a council meeting on Tuesday afternoon.

Lara argues that all people, regardless of citizenship status, should have a say in the decisions that impact their daily lives. “We have people who have worked and invested in our neighborhoods, and they deserve a voice in their local government through the ballot,” she stated during the meeting.

Support for this resolution was bolstered by Jessie Carpenter, a city clerk from Takoma Park, Maryland, who presented a similar policy already in effect in her jurisdiction. In Tacoma Park, immigrants, regardless of their legal status, have the right to vote in municipal elections since a 1992 initiative. Carpenter noted that nearly one-third of Tacoma Park’s residents are foreign-born, and in the latest city data, about 20% of registered voters were noncitizens.

However, there are concerns about the logistics of implementing this policy change in a much larger and more diverse city like Boston. Elections Commissioner Eneida Tavares pointed out the challenge of maintaining separate databases for noncitizen voters and keeping their immigration status private.

During the meeting, other councilors raised the issue of potential confusion and jeopardizing immigrants’ pathway to citizenship if they mistakenly vote in state or federal elections. City Councilor Liz Breadon cautioned that the federal government has a strict approach to these matters and does not tolerate mistakes.

It is also unclear how Boston election officials would vet noncitizen voters, and the state of Massachusetts has been grappling with the influx of migrants from the southern border. In response, Governor Maura Healey declared a state of emergency and activated the state National Guard to assist with managing the situation.

Additionally, Massachusetts House Democrats proposed a $2.8 billion spending bill, with $250 million allocated for shelter and transportation for vulnerable families, including an overflow site for homeless families stuck on a state wait list. However, some Republican lawmakers argue that the bill, which includes funding for migrants, should have been debated in a formal session to allow for opposing views to be heard.

If the Boston resolution is approved, it would apply to immigrants with “legal status,” but it remains to be seen how election officials would verify this information. Whatever the outcome may be, the debate over immigrant voting rights in Boston highlights the larger issue of how to address and integrate immigrants into the local community.