Big Push for Non-Citizen Voting in Local Elections

After getting shot down during the Charter Review process last year, several residents appeared at Monday’s City Council meeting to support a Home Rule Petition put in by Councilor Melinda Vega Maldonado to allow non-citizens in Chelsea to be able to vote in municipal elections.

Non-citizen voting for permanent residents has been a topic in Chelsea for a long time, but has yet to get enough traction to make it a reality. Last year, during the 10-year Charter Review process, the matter came up in a big way, but was voted down by the Review Commission. It was not recommended in the final report from the Commission.

On Monday night, Vega Maldonado introduced her piece that would need to pass the City Council, and then go to the State House where it would have to pass the House and Senate and be signed by Gov. Charlie Baker. Only then would it then become allowed, but one battle at a time, and on Monday – the fight was in the City Council Chambers.

“In Chelsea, 45.4 percent of our residents are foreign-born according to the Census,” she said. “This Home Rule Petition will give the right for our non-citizen residents to vote in municipal elections. This means that our families, neighbors and co-workers will have the right to be represented locally through our elected officials. Even though they still pay their local taxes, they do not get a say in how the local taxes are spent and they do not get a say in the schools that their children attend.”

Councilor Judith Garcia, who chaired the Charter Review Commission and favored non-citizen voting, commended the many residents that came up Monday with signs in Spanish that read, “Reclaim the Vote.”

“This is not only about immigrants, but about all of our residents,” she said. “You have all contributed to the social fabric of the community and it’s not that you don’t have a voice; it’s that we haven’t created the social platform for you to have authentic voices…It’s time to reclaim the vote.”

Many residents and their families also came up and spoke in favor of the matter, including School Committee members Roberto Jimenez and Yessenia Alfaro.

Emily Menjivar said there are about 12,457 non-citizens in Chelsea, according to the Census, and none of them get the right to choose decision-makers in their own city.

“These non-citizens could be your neighbor, your gardener or the children your kids go to school with, yet for some xenophobic, idiotic reason, they can’t contribute to anything,” she said. “That’s political. As a daughter of a non-citizen that can’t vote, we can do better.”

Olga Armas of Bellingham Street said she would like to get the right to vote in Chelsea.

“I’m here to see how can I reclaim the right to vote,” she said in Spanish with an interpreter. “As a future candidate for U.S. Citizenship, I would like to start using that right to vote locally now.”

Joselyn Vasquez of Chestnut Street said she would like to have the right to vote for School Committee members that make decisions about her children’s’ schooling.

“I’d like to exercise my right to vote because my daughter goes to school here and my vote can influence schools where my daughter and my other children are going to learn,” she said in Spanish through an interpreter. “The problem is my opinion is never heard because I do not have the right to vote.”

The matter was moved to a public hearing, which will likely take place in September when the Council reconvenes after the summer recess.

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