THE HISTORY OF IMMIGRANT VOTING RIGHTS IN
The Immigrant Voting Project and
New York University Law Students for Human Rights
Resident Noncitizen Voting in Massachusetts:
The original Massachusetts Constitution of 1780 granted suffrage to all male “inhabitants” who met certain financial qualifications. However, as early as 1811, the Massachusetts Supreme Court interpreted the word “inhabitant” to be synonymous with “citizen,” declaring that suffrage was intended for citizens only, and that the payment of taxes alone did not impart any political rights.
Lest any confusion persist, an 1821 amendment to the Massachusetts Constitution explicitly changed the word “inhabitant” to “citizen” in defining eligible voters. Scholars have hypothesized that the national trend towards restricting the franchise to citizens during this period stemmed from the rise of national consciousness surrounding the War of 1812 and apprehension toward the large numbers of “less readily assimilable” non-English immigrants who began arriving after 1815, particularly Irish and Germans. In particular, tensions related to the British presence in Canada during the War of 1812 had led to U.S.-wide policies restricting immigration from the northern border as well as loyalty oaths. Following the brief lull in immigration that took place during the war, a wave of five million immigrants arrived in the United States between 1815 and 1860, culminating in a wave of anti-immigrant sentiment in the middle of the century.
During the 1850s, a period that coincided with the rise of the anti-Catholic and anti-immigrant Know-Nothing Party, Massachusetts further restricted suffrage, adopting a literacy test law and a law requiring that naturalized citizens be a resident for two years after naturalization before becoming eligible to vote. Massachusetts’ restrictive attitude toward immigrant voting during this period can also be explained by demographics. In a time of national expansion, immigrants were more likely to be viewed as presenting a “practical” problem in densely populated states such as New York and Massachusetts than in the more sparsely populated Western territories, which were actively recruiting newcomers.
Today’s version of the Massachusetts Constitution retains the citizenship requirement for voting in state elections, although it does not explicitly refer to citizenship in the United States:
Every citizen of eighteen years of age and upwards, excepting persons who are incarcerated in a correctional facility due to a felony conviction, and, excepting persons under guardianship and persons temporarily or permanently disqualified by law because of corrupt practices in respect to elections who shall have resided within the town or district in which he may claim a right to vote, six calendar months next preceding any election of governor, lieutenant governor, senators or representatives, shall have a right to vote in such election of governor, lieutenant governor, senators and representatives; and no other person shall be entitled to vote in such election.
The state electoral code confirms the citizenship requirement, while further expanding upon the requirements for registering to vote in a city or town in Massachusetts.
During the 1990s, several campaigns to extend local voting rights to non-citizens began in Massachusetts. Two Massachusetts towns have approved measures to allow non-citizens to vote in certain local elections. In 1998, the Amherst town meeting passed a measure allowing permanent residents of U.S. who reside in Amherst to vote in any election for local offices and local ballot questions. In 2000, the Cambridge City Council passed a resolution to allow immigrants who are residents of Cambridge to vote in school committee elections. In order to receive the necessary exemption from the general state law, which otherwise mandates citizenship for voting, both municipalities submitted home rule petitions to the state legislature. The home rule petitions, if approved, would allow Cambridge and Amherst to change their charters to include non-citizen voters. As of November 2004, neither petition had made it out of the Joint Committee on Election Laws.A new petition was filed in February 2005. Initiatives also have been launched in Somerville, Chelsea, and Everett and, most recently, Newton.
 See, e.g., In re Opinion of Justices, 7 Mass. 523 (Mass. 1811).
 Gerald Rosburg, Aliens and Equal Protection: Why Not the Right to Vote?, 75 Mich. L. Rev. 1092, 1097 (1977) note 11, at 1097.
 Id. at 1095.
 Virginia Harper-Ho, Noncitizen Voting Rights: The History, the Law and Current Prospects for Change, 18 Law & Ineq. J. 271, 277 (2000) at 280 n. 65.
 Id. at 278.
 M.G.L.A. Const. Amend. Art 3.
 Mass. Gen. Law ch. 51 § 1: “Every citizen eighteen years of age or older, not being a person under guardianship or incarcerated in a correctional facility due to a felony conviction, and not being temporarily or permanently disqualified by law because of corrupt practices in respect to elections, who is a resident in the city or town where he claims the right to vote at the time he registers, and who has complied with the requirements of this chapter, may have his name entered on the list of voters in such city or town, and may vote therein in any such election, or except insofar as restricted in any town in which a representative town meeting form of government has been established, in any meeting held for the transaction of town affairs. Notwithstanding any special law to the contrary, every such citizen who resides within the boundaries of any district, as defined in section one A of chapter forty-one, may vote for district officers and in any district meeting thereof, and no other person may so vote. No person otherwise qualified to vote for national or state officers shall, by reason of a change of residence within the commonwealth, be disqualified from voting for such officers in the city or town from which he has removed his residence until the expiration of six months from such removal.”
 The “Home Rule Amendment” of the Massachusetts Constitution, which grants to cities and towns limited powers of self-government, provides that towns may exercise any power or function “which is not inconsistent with the constitution or laws enacted by the general court.” Mass. Const. art. 89, § 6.
 See S. 2029 (Mass. 2003) and Mass. Assembly 4540 (2004).
 Jamin B. Raskin, Legal Aliens, Local Citizens: The Historical, Constitutional, and Theoretical Meanings of Alien Suffrage, 141 U. Pa. L. Rev. 1391, 1402 (1993).Note 21, at 1463.
 Id. at 1463.
 Id. at 1463.
 Id. at 1463.
 Id. at 1465. In response to Takoma Park’s actions in favor of non-citizen voting, attempts were made on both the local and state level to prevent the amendment from taking effect. Delegate John Morgan introduced a bill in the Maryland House of Delegates to ban voting by non-citizens in local elections, but the measure failed by a 11-6 vote on March 17, 1992. Id. at 1465-66.