The Boston City Council is exploring whether non-U.S. citizens who are in the country legally should be allowed to vote in local elections.

Under Massachusetts law only U.S. citizens can vote - whether for president of just their local council person. But Boston City Council President Andrea Campbell, who convened a Tuesday hearing on the subject, said that means thousands of Boston residents are essentially left out.

"They attend civic associations, they are running businesses, they are contributing to the economy, they pay taxes -- so the question becomes how do we want to allow them to participate in a government that forms policies that affect their daily lives?" she said.

Any change in voting qualifications would require state approval. In the past, Cambridge and Amherst passed such measures only to see them die in the state house.

There is also likely to be opposition from within the City Council itself -- Councilor Timothy McCarthy of Hyde Park, has said voting is the ultimate privilege of citizenship and should stay that way.