A community and city thrive when everyone is at the table: engaged, open-minded and working together to forge a brighter future for each and every one of our neighbors. As a city that is changing and growing, Portland cannot simply talk the talk when it comes to diversity and being a welcoming city. If we truly believe in and want a vibrant city that works for each and every one of us, we must move beyond diversity. We must consider ways in which we can advance inclusivity, so that each and every one of our neighbors feels valued and can fully participate in the decisions that affect the livelihoods and well-being of every resident who calls Portland home.

That is why the conversation sparked by Mayor Ethan Strimling’s and City Councilor Pious Ali’s proposal to allow legal noncitizens the right to vote in municipal elections and referendums is an important debate we must have with each other. And I think we would be remiss if we did not invite history to be a part of the conversation.

In 1776, power and voting rights, along with wealth, were concentrated in the hands of white men who were 21 or older and were property owners.

In 1868, following the Civil War, the 14th Amendment was passed giving all men born and naturalized in the United States full citizenship rights, including the right to vote.

In 1870, the 15th Amendment prohibited states from creating racial barriers to voting, such as poll taxes, literacy tests, fraud and voter intimidation.

In 1920, women fought for and won the right to vote.

In 1924, Native Americans received full citizenship rights, including the right to vote, when the Indian Citizenship Act was passed.

In 1964, the Civil Rights Act was passed to ensure that all men and women ages 21 and older, regardless of race, religion or education, were allowed to vote. This was followed by the 1965 Voting Rights Act, which provided federal oversight and enforcement of voting rights and registration in states with a history of voter suppression.

In 1971, the 21st Amendment was ratified, giving men and women 18 years and older the right to vote. The argument then was that if men and women were old enough to fight and die for this country, then they should be allowed to vote.

In 1984, the Voting Accessibility for the Elderly and Handicapped Act required polling places to be accessible to people with disabilities.

Voting rights are still under threat today with partisan gerrymandering, restrictive voter ID laws and an increasingly hostile Supreme Court – which, suggesting that racism and voter suppression are a thing of the past, struck down pre-clearance, a key provision of the Voting Rights Act that required certain states to obtain federal approval of changes in voting laws. Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg vehemently dissented, writing: “Throwing out pre-clearance when it has worked and is continuing to work to stop discriminatory changes is like throwing away your umbrella in a rainstorm because you are not getting wet.”

Portland itself must not ignore its own history of suppressing minorities’ voting power. In the early 1900s, the predominantly Protestant Committee of 100 and the Ku Klux Klan sought reforms that did away with a popularly elected mayor, an 18-member common council and the nine-member board of aldermen and replaced them with a city manager and five-person City Council. This drastically reduced representation, and the redrawing of district lines effectively erased the voting clout of Portland’s Jewish and French Canadian, Irish and Italian Catholic populations as Klan- and Protestant-backed candidates swept into power.

History reveals that who gets to vote and how much our votes matter have less to do with citizenship and more to do with who wields power and who is left disenfranchised. It’s a history of progress and the expansion of our body politic as we struggled with our collective conscience, and as our vision of what and who our representative democracy truly represents changed with the times.

Our immigrant neighbors rent apartments, own homes, pay property taxes, build businesses and create jobs. Decisions made by our city, whether in City Hall or at the ballot box, have as much of an effect on our immigrant neighbors as they do on the rest of us. I believe allowing them to have a say and weigh in on referendums and city elections is an important discussion to be had and that history should inform how we move forward as a community.

Only subscribers are eligible to post comments. Please subscribe or to participate in the conversation. Here’s why.

Use the form below to reset your password. When you've submitted your account email, we will send an email with a reset code.