A Wayland resident writing on her own behalf. She is also a School Committee member and executive director of WaylandeNews.com.
I believe extending local voting rights to permanent resident non-citizens is an issue of fairness. Our non-citizen neighbors pay the same taxes, follow our laws (or suffer our penalties), and even have to register for the draft. They have every obligation that a US citizen does, but lack the right to vote. Here in Wayland, our decisions are strictly local, and do not create conflicts with foreign loyalties. All our residents pay our taxes, and all should have a voice in how those taxes are spent. Many countries around the world, and some localities within the US, allow non-citizens to vote.
It is also an issue of participation: because they are not on our voter list, non-citizens are unable to serve as voting members of any board or committee, elected or appointed. But some of these neighbors would like to offer their time and expertise and give back to the town, and we would benefit from their involvement.
Just like those of us who were born here, immigrants feel more a part of our community when they are more involved. Allowing them to vote promotes this sense of belonging. Voting leads to feeling American just as being American makes us want to vote.
Compare the US citizen who moved here yesterday from New York or Texas to the non-citizen who has been here in Wayland for 10 years. Both have a stake in the outcome of local elections, pay taxes, and send their children to public schools, visit the library, and depend on the Water Department. If an issue arises that concerns the level of taxation and how those funds are used, the non-citizen is no more likely to be indifferent than is the citizen newcomer. But the non-citizen is not only more invested and knowledgeable (and, parenthetically, far more likely to be a Red Sox fan). Who seems more entitled to vote?
Community is about being neighbors and working together; it is not about where we were born. Let citizen voters decide who should run our country and how. But let the people who live and care about Wayland decide what happens within our borders.
Wayland Finance Committee chairman
The Department of Homeland Security oversees immigration and gives permission to live and work in the US permanently. This proposed bylaw bypasses that authority. It would allow aliens lawfully admitted for permanent residence in the United States who meet all qualifications for voting except US citizenship to participate in any election for local offices or ballot questions, and at Town Meeting. By rewriting these rules at a local level, we compromise our existing laws. The structure of election laws was not to intended to create a special class of voters with different voting rights.
The proposal would also allow a permanent non-citizen who wants greater participation to run for local office. Yet this could create complications with our existing bylaws. For example, there is no provision in the proposal to remove an elected official if there is a change in immigration status during his or her term in office.
Moreover, done right, developing and managing new processes for non-citizen voting is complex and more than our existing town resources can easily manage. There is a price associated with identifying, validating, managing, and monitoring non-citizens voters. We cannot reference current precedents to determine the financial impact of allowing non-citizen voting since the state and federal governments and local Massachusetts municipalities do not allow non-citizens to vote. As long as Wayland is the only town that allows non-citizens to vote, the cost to establish and implement processes to manage validation and monitor for abuse falls squarely on us, with no option for economies of scale derived from sharing with other municipalities.
Non-citizens who are recent or transient residents are also more likely to vote on issues that directly affect their immediate interests with benefits they can leverage from a municipality. This has the potential for skewed votes that may not represent the majority of citizens who live in Wayland. When a special interest group attends Town Meeting to vote only for a specific article and leaves immediately after the vote, all Wayland residents, present to vote or not, have to carry the financial burden of higher taxes, reduced services, and reductions in other department budgets.
Last week’s Argument: Should Shrewsbury oppose the proposed natural gas pipeline?
Yes: 50 percent (7 votes)
No: 50 percent (7 votes)
As told to Globe correspondent John Laidler. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org