BOSTON (State House News Service) – Amherst Rep. Solomon Goldstein-Rose has filed a bill that would grant voting rights to noncitizens in town elections, a move he says would make the town more inclusive for the many international professors and graduate students living permanently in the college town.
The bill, filed by the freshman rep last week, would allow legal permanent Amherst residents who are not citizens to register to vote in local elections when they turn 18 years old. The bill would not grant noncitizens the right to vote in state or federal elections.
“In Amherst this is a real issue because we have a bunch of professors and graduate students and people who are very much a part of our community who may be living here indefinitely or permanently but are from all over the world,” Goldstein-Rose said.
The bill arrives amid debate over voting rights and immigration policies, the focus of well-attended legislative committee hearings on Thursday and Friday.
Goldstein-Rose said his voting bill is not directly related to those issues or any current events. “It is not at all reacting to a particular crisis or anything that is happening,” Goldstein-Rose said. “It is a proactive measure Amherst is trying to be ahead on.”
Amherst Town Meeting approved a warrant article earlier this year to grant such voting rights to legal permanent residents. The next step, Goldstein-Rose said, is for the Legislature to approve it. Similar warrants have been approved by Town Meeting in past years, but bills filed by Senate President Stanley Rosenberg and former Amherst Rep. Ellen Story were not approved on Beacon Hill.
Amherst has 37,819 residents, according to the 2010 U.S. Census. That number includes students who attend the town’s two colleges and university: Hampshire College, Amherst College and the University of Massachusetts Amherst.
According to a town employee, some 15 percent of the town’s approximately 19,000 registered voters cast ballots in local elections, depending on whether there is a contested race.
Diana Sierra, an organizer with the Pioneer Valley Workers Center in Northampton, said the bill could make permanent residents in town feel more respected.
“They pay taxes and they are contributing to the community,” Sierra said. “They should have a say.”
The town has passed other measures in response recent political events.
Taking aim at President Donald Trump’s administration, Amherst Town Meeting approved a Sanctuary Community bylaw in May to protect undocumented residents and bar town employees and town tax dollars from participating in the establishment of a Muslim registry.