Voters turned down a Multnomah County measure that would have allowed people who are not U.S. citizens to vote in county elections. Unofficial results Wednesday had the measure failing 45% to 55%.
Proponents of Measure 26-231 include the Asian Pacific American Network of Oregon, Coalition of Communities of Color, Latino Network, Oregon Food Bank, Multnomah County Commissioner Susheela Jayapal and the American Civil Liberties Union of Oregon.
ACLU Senior Policy Associate Mariana Garciá Medina said her reaction to the news was pure disappointment.
“Voting exclusion based on non-citizen censorship is arbitrary, it’s unfair and it disproportionately impacts people of color,” she said. “It silences the voices of community members.”
Multnomah County would have been the first jurisdiction in Oregon to give noncitizens the right to vote. Only a small number of governments nationwide allow this — including Montpelier, Vermont and nearly a dozen cities in Maryland.
Garciá Medina said that residents of an area should have a voice on issues that affect them, regardless of their citizenship status.
“They participate in our communities, they pay taxes, they work, they start businesses,” Garciá Medina said. “They’re parents, neighbors, friends and coworkers, and they’re really an integral part of our community.”
A Multnomah County charter review subcommittee assumed the measure would face legal challenges if voters approved it. Similar measures were passed in New York City and San Francisco, but both were struck down by their respective state’s Supreme Court for violating both state constitutions. When the Multnomah County committee recommended referring the measure to the ballot, the group noted that negative impacts could include “potential backlash against immigrants and non-citizens.”
The measure was part of a package conceived by the county’s Charter Review Committee — a 16-person volunteer group. The committee sent three major amendments to the November ballot including one that removed gendered language from the charter, and a second that would implement ranked-choice voting for Multnomah County races by 2026. Both of those measures passed in Tuesday’s election.
While the noncitizen voting measure did not pass, Garciá Medina said she’s still hopeful these types of measures have a future in the state. She said Oregon has an incredible track record of making voting as accessible and inclusive as possible and hopes momentum for these types of measures continues.
“The idea of American democracy is that our government is of the people and that has always included noncitizens,” Garciá Medina said.
Geographically the measure had more support in eastern Portland precincts, which tend to be more diverse than other parts of the city.