Should noncitizens vote in Northampton? Panel wants input

  • Northampton City Hall GAZETTE FILE PHOTO

Staff Writer
Published: 10/27/2019 12:06:55 PM

NORTHAMPTON — In the future, noncitizen residents may be able to vote in city elections.

The proposal is not among recommended changes to the city charter that have been drafted by the Charter Review Committee, which include lowering the voting age to 16 and making the city clerk an appointed position. The committee will take public comment on the recommendations Tuesday, Oct. 29 at 6:30 p.m. in the Jackson Street School gym.

But the committee said recently it will also air the possibility of recommending extending voting rights to noncitizens at Tuesday’s meeting, said committee chairman Stanley Moulton.

“Among the things we’d like to hear from people at the forum Tuesday are reactions to that — for or against,” Moulton said.

The Pioneer Valley Workers Center brought the idea to the committee, according to Moulton.

“These are folks who work in our restaurants, their kids go to the school with our kids, they help keep our city going and are an invaluable part of the community. Yet their voice is silenced,” said Rose Bookbinder, co-director of the workers center. “We need to show as a city that we care about their opinions, and they have the right to representation in our community.”

A Northampton man who has temporary protected status that is set to expire soon and who spoke to the Gazette in Spanish through a translator said getting the right to vote is important to him.

“As people, we’re all equal, whether they are citizens or immigrants. I think that we have the same rights,” he said. “It would give me more opportunities ... the ability to be able to elect the people who will support us as immigrants.”

Bookbinder said she has heard people say that if noncitizens register to vote, their information might be shared with federal authorities, putting them at risk if they are undocumented.

“To me, that feels like a way white people want to take away immigrants’ own agency, and they feel like they need to protect them or save them for being at risk as if somehow white people know better,” Bookbinder said. People should be able to make their own decision, and the city should protect their information, she said.

Recommended changes must be approved by the City Council and Mayor David Narkewicz before moving on to the state Legislature. Under state law, only U.S. citizens can vote, so the state would have to grant Northampton an exception, according to Narkewicz.

Several Massachusetts municipalities, such as Amherst, have passed measures that would allow noncitizens to vote, but the state has not granted any exceptions to the law.

Greta Jochem can be reached at Gazette reporter Michael Connors contributed to this report.

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