The self-proclaimed sanctuary city of Boston is considering a resolution that would allow immigrants with "legal status" to vote in local elections – a proposal that reportedly has gained support from the majority of Boston city councilors and was weighed during a council meeting on Tuesday.
Councilor Kendra Lara introduced the home rule petition, which was debated during a Tuesday afternoon hearing among fellow councilors, immigration advocates and city election officials, The Boston Herald reported.
"We have people who, despite not being given a voice in their local government through the ballot, have worked, sacrificed and invested in their neighborhoods, and all people should have a say in the decisions that impact their daily lives," Lara reportedly said.
Jessie Carpenter, a city clerk for Takoma Park, Maryland, reportedly presented Boston councilors with a similar policy change already in effect in her out-of-state, much smaller jurisdiction.
According to an October press release, Tacoma Park celebrated the 30th anniversary of the first non-U.S. residents voting, but a 1992 initiative in the Maryland city gave immigrants "regardless of their legal status" the right to vote in municipal elections. In Tacoma Park, "nearly one-third of the residents are foreign-born," according to the press release, and the latest city data from 2017 showed that of the 347 registered noncitizen voters in Takoma Park, 72 cast ballots, making up roughly 20% of those registered.
The number of immigrants in the city of Boston, with a population of more than 650,000 residents compared to the more than 17,000 residents in Tacoma Park, is likely much higher.
Carpenter told the Boston City Council on Tuesday that in Tacoma Park, immigrants are not asked about their legal status when they register to vote and instead are simply asked for proof of identity and city residency, according to the Herald. She said that since Tacoma Park has just "hundreds" of registered noncitizen voters, she keeps their information in a simple Excel spreadsheet, and the list of people eligible to vote is updated once non-citizens move, as indicated by return to sender city mail.
Elections Commissioner Eneida Tavares said a similar policy change could prove logistically challenging for the much larger city of Boston, telling city councilors Tuesday that the Boston Election Department would need to evaluate whether it had the capabilities to maintain two separate databases "without causing any confusion."
"Our preferred method would be to use the secretary of state’s database because it’s just one place where we can house everything," Tavares said. "It’s easier to update voting, voter information, give voter history to voters and everything of that nature."
Tavares also told councilors that the city would likely not be able to keep an individual’s immigration status private if their public voting information were requested for a court proceeding.
During the meeting, other councilors voiced concern that noncitizens could mistakenly be permitted to cast ballots in state or federal elections if the change regarding city elections comes to fruition. That, some say, could jeopardize immigrants’ pathway toward citizenship. City Councilor Liz Breadon said, "If they’re on a pathway to citizenship, you didn’t want a mistake to happen that would put that in jeopardy because the federal government has a big black and white all or nothing approach to these things."
Though the Boston proposal would apply to immigrants with "legal status," it is unclear how Boston election officials would vet noncitizen voters.
The state of Massachusetts has been grappling with the influx of migrants from the southern border, and Democratic Gov. Maura Healey declared a state of emergency and activated the state National Guard to help manage the crisis. Over the summer, Boston received a $1.9 million grant from the Federal Emergency Management Agency to help migrants with shelter and transportation, The Associated Press reported.
Meanwhile, Massachusetts House Democrats on Monday pushed a $2.8 billion spending bill which would set aside $250 million to help provide shelter for vulnerable families, including up to $50 million for an overflow site for homeless families stuck on a state wait list. The state’s emergency shelters are buckling under a crush of migrant and homeless families.
Republicans had unsuccessfully attempted to block the bill allocating migrant funding, slamming the "one-party monopoly" and arguing the bill warranted debate in a formal session.
The Associated Press contributed to this report.