PORTLAND – I wish to express my disagreement with the substance and the tone of the March 1 editorial in the Portland Press Herald.

The title of the editorial sets its negative tone, by stating “Non-citizen voting is not a local issue.”

The editorial then goes on to express that the city charter is not the proper way for legal residents to obtain the privilege of voting in local elections.

Why not express the term “non-citizen,” which starts out as a negative, with the more positive term, “legal resident,” which is what we are urging?

Legal residents have a long history of voting in local elections in many states going all the way back to the founding of the country.

Legal residents own property, pay taxes and have had their voices heard in many ways in this city, this state and this country.

But their voices are not heard through the privilege of voting in local elections.

Legal residents then become the victims. The vote has only been tied in the popular consciousness with citizenship since the 1920s.

During the War for Independence, the victims expressed their rage at the British Parliament through the slogan “Taxation without representation is tyranny!”

During the 72-year-long struggle for women’s suffrage, the victims used that same slogan. It says a whole lot that in our country people can pay taxes long before they can vote!

Legal residents can also serve in the armed forces. But they cannot vote in local elections in most states. It says a lot more that in our country, a person can die in war defending the country before she or he can vote!

Was not this one of the primary arguments in favor of lowering the voting age to 18 by constitutional amendment in 1970? If a person can die in service of their country, they should be allowed to vote in it.

The history of the issue of legal resident voting in Portland is tied to a long record of xenophobia. Prior to World War I, legal residents were allowed to vote in local, state and national elections in 22 states.

In 1923, Portland joined the ranks of cities all over the country which changed their form of governments as part of a campaign which they called “clean government.” The hallmarks of the “clean government campaigns” were changes away from “direct election” of city councilors toward councilors at large.

Like many of the “liberal” reforms of the so-called “Progressive Era,” the reforms masked blatant xenophobia against the voting immigrant populations, which in Portland meant Irish, Italian and Jewish voters.

The idea was that “direct election” of councilors-at-large could minimize the impact of immigrants voting for a counselor who represented their wards or neighborhoods.

Remember that the reforms of the so-called “Progressive Era” also masked the most blatant period of racism against African-Americans in the history of the United States (if you can say “more blatant” in contrast to the eras of slavery and Reconstruction).

In the 1920s the Ku Klux Klan supported efforts at “clean government.”

The Ku Klux Klan in Maine, however, was not so concerned about the small number of African-Americans as it was about the surge in immigration and the growing political influence in the city’s Catholic wards. The Protestant business establishment worried about losing its privilege.

Since 1968, New York City has granted resident “aliens” who are the parents of school children the right to vote and run for community school board. Chicago similarly gives such parents the right to vote in school board elections. Takoma Park, Maryland gives all residents, regardless of citizenship, the right to vote and run for office in local elections.

Somerset, Barnesville, Chevy Chase and Martin’s Addition are four smaller Maryland municipalities which now allow resident “aliens” to participate in local elections.

Today, we are seeking to expand the definition of who is a voter to include the large number of legal residents who are no longer primarily Catholic, but are primarily Muslim or African Christian.

The religions have changed since the 1920s and so, too, has the skin color. But the issues of fairness and exclusivity are as alive today as they were in the so-called “Progressive Era.”

Today, we have an opportunity to be truly progressive.

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