AUGUSTA, Maine — A Maine lawmaker’s effort to put a measure to a statewide vote that would keep noncitizens from voting in local elections is loosely linked to a national push for similar laws aimed for the 2020 ballot from allies of President Donald Trump.
Having the issue on the 2020 ballot could serve two purposes for Republicans in Maine and across the country: to drive out conservative voters over immigration during an election year for Trump and make Democrats answer for whether they support the measures.
People who are not U.S. citizens cannot vote in federal and state elections, but the Maine Constitution does not prohibit them from voting in municipal elections, according to a 2009 opinion from Democratic Gov. Janet Mills when she served as attorney general.
Rep. Billy Bob Faulkingham, R-Winter Harbor, has proposed a citizen initiative to prohibit noncitizen voting, aiming to put it on the November 2020 ballot. His effort comes after the Democratic-led Legislature voted down similar proposed constitutional amendments this year.
“It doesn’t matter to me whether the election is for the governor or city council,” Faulkingham said. “The right to vote is a privilege that is just for United States citizens only.”
No Maine cities or towns allow noncitizens to vote, but Portland rejected a measure to allow it in 2010 and an effort to put that on the 2018 ballot was delayed by the City Council last year. Portland Mayor Ethan Strimling, a Democrat running for re-election in 2019, said the referendum proposal is a “terrible idea,” calling it “a local control issue.”
“A lot of Portland residents have kids in school, they pay taxes, they’re fully part of the community, except they’re not allowed to vote in municipal elections,” he said.
The Maine effort has connections to similar drives in other states, including Florida, where a nonprofit that does not have to disclose donors gave $8.3 million to the political committee behind a referendum drive there as of July. Tim Mooney, the head of a conservative consulting firm in Arizona, told The Washington Post in July that Maine was a target of that national push.
On Tuesday, Mooney said he was working with Paul Jacob, a conservative organizer specializing in ballot initiatives, on the Florida effort and others that look to repeat their successful 2018 effort in North Dakota. Mooney said he hasn’t talked to Faulkingham directly. Jacob said he is “cheerleading” the Maine effort and offering advice to organizers.
“We’re working quickly to gather resources,” Mooney said. “We don’t want to start something we can’t finish.”
Still, Jacob said his group has not made a financial commitment and has not decided exactly how they will be involved. Mooney also said John Loudon, the chairman of the Florida political committee who the Post said is a former adviser to a Trump-backing nonprofit and a member of the president’s Mar-a-Lago Club in Florida, has reached out to Faulkingham.
When asked again, Faulkingham said he has not heard from Loudon and that he “hasn’t gotten any money” from Loudon, Citizen Voters or another affiliated group yet. He said earlier on Tuesday that he believes the measure is broadly supported in Maine.
Mills and all of her opponents in the 2018 election told the Portland Press Herald they opposed letting noncitizens vote. Noncitizens comprise 2 percent of the Maine population, according to the Kaiser Family Foundation. Only Montana, Mississippi and West Virginia had lower shares among states.
To get on the ballot, supporters of the referendum must submit approximately 63,000 signatures from registered voters to the state by February 2020. The Legislature’s fiscal office is reviewing the proposal’s fiscal impact and Faulkingham may be able to begin collecting signatures by month’s end.