Nov. 24, 2021 By Allie Griffin
New York City is on track to allow noncitizens the right to vote in local elections.
City lawmakers will likely pass legislation next month that will give the city’s more than 800,000 green card holders and authorized workers the right to partake in municipal elections.
The bill’s prime sponsor Council Member Ydanis Rodriguez — who emigrated from the Dominican Republic at 18 and is a former green card holder himself — announced Tuesday that the council will vote on the legislation on Dec. 9. He made the announcement during a rally in support of the bill outside City Hall.
The legislation, titled “Our City, Our Vote”, has been sponsored by 34 of the 51 council members and has the backing of the public advocate. The bill has a veto-proof majority.
The new law would make New York City the largest municipality in the country permitting noncitizens the right to vote in local elections, according to the New York Times.
The bill applies to both green card holders and noncitizen residents who are legally allowed to work in the country. It requires noncitizen voters to have lived in the city for at least 30 consecutive days prior to the election.
The bill would permit legal residents with the right to vote in city elections, such as for mayor, public advocate, comptroller and their local council member. They would still be unable to vote in state and federal elections.
The passage of the bill, however, would come at a time when several states across the country are putting in place greater voter restrictions.
Rodriguez, who became a citizen in 2000, said New York City should be a leader in expanding voting rights when other cities and states in the nation are “attacking voting rights.”
“[We are] restoring the rights of individuals who pay their taxes,” he said at the rally. “This is about taxation without representation.”
Eight Queens council members are sponsors of the bill. Council Members Daniel Dromm, I. Daneek Miller, Jimmy Van Bramer, Antonio Reynoso, Adrienne Adams, Peter Koo, Selvena Brooks-Powers and Francisco Moya are among the bill’s sponsors.
Former Council Members Donovan Richards and Costa Constantinides were also sponsors before they left the council.
Queens Council Members Paul Vallone, Barry Grodenchik, James Gennaro, Karen Koslowitz, Robert Holden and Eric Ulrich, meanwhile, have not signed on as sponsors.
Holden has been critical of the legislation, arguing that voting rights should be reserved for U.S. citizens alone.
He called the bill “ridiculous” and said the number of sponsors it has was “alarming” during a radio show in September.
“We keep chipping away at the value of citizenship,” Holden said on Cats at Night with John Catsimatidis.
“What city or even what country would allow up to a million — it could be 950,000 by an estimate — foreigners to vote in our elections?” he questioned. “I mean these are people that are not citizens. Can you imagine that?”
Holden also took issue with the bill’s stipulation that only requires noncitizen residents to live in the city for 30 days prior to a local election. He believes the month-long period is too short.
In addition, Holden questioned whether the city had the legal authority to grant noncitizens voting rights.
Advocates of the bill, however, say that the city does have the authority.
Supporters also argue that most legal residents pay taxes and they should have a say—at the ballot box—as to who leads the city and how taxpayer funds are spent.
Reynoso, a sponsor of the bill, joined advocates at the rally outside City Hall Tuesday and said the bill was of personal significance to him—as the son of immigrants.
The council member’s parents came to the U.S. from the Dominican Republic and then started a family in Brooklyn. They were unable to vote, he said, despite paying taxes and using public services, such as schools.
“Immigrants mean so much to this city…,” Reynoso, who represents parts of both Queens and Brooklyn, said.
Next month’s vote has been a long time coming, its supporters say. An earlier version of the bill was first introduced during the Council’s 2010-2013 session but was not put up for a vote. The bill was revised and introduced in its current version, as Intro 1867, on Jan. 23, 2020 — nearly two years ago.
Van Bramer has been a sponsor of the legislation since 2010, he said.
“Every New Yorker who lives here deserves a voice in the future…,” he said at a June rally supporting the legislation in Corona Plaza.
“Folks are living here, taking the subway, going to stores, car[ing] about whether or not the streets are clean and how the schools are funded — those decisions are made by people who are elected to represent these communities and so the very people who live here must have the right to vote.”
Dromm is also a longtime supporter of the legislation.
“If you pay taxes, you should be able to vote,” he said in a statement days after the latest version of the bill was introduced. “No taxation without representation is a principle the US was founded on. It’s a basic civil right.”
Immigrant rights groups have been advocating for the bill for years. They hosted a rally in Corona Plaza in June, when Moya, who represents Corona, agreed to co-sponsor the bill effectively establishing a supermajority. A council supermajority prevents the mayor from vetoing the bill.
“As a lifelong advocate for immigrants and as a representative of one of the largest immigrant communities in the city, I know the incredible impact Intro 1867 will have for countless New Yorkers,” Moya said at the June rally. “I am proud to support this bill and thrilled that my co-sponsorship established a super-majority on a historic piece of legislation that will give a voice to nearly a million New Yorkers.”
Mayor Bill de Blasio, however, said he does have reservations about the bill, although he is unable to stop it from becoming law if it passes by a supermajority.
He said he fears that the bill would reduce the incentive for immigrants to become citizens—should citizenship no longer be required to participate in local elections.
He also questioned its legal standing.
“I’m also concerned about the legal question, which is unclear whether it’s something that can be done on the local level,” he said Tuesday.
The council’s legal staff, according to the NYTimes, maintain that no federal or state law prevents the city from expanding voting rights to noncitizens in municipal elections.
The New York constitution does link voting rights to citizenship, but it does not expressly say that noncitizens cannot vote. However, the legislation could face court challenges, according to experts.
The legislation — upon becoming law — would have a significant impact on Queens, home to a large number of green card holders and authorized workers. About 12 percent of the population of Queens consists of green card holders and those with work visas, according to the Mayor’s Office of Immigrant Affairs.
Queens Community House, a nonprofit that serves 25,000 residents in 14 Queens neighborhoods, is a staunch supporter of the bill.
The organization said that many taxpayers in Queens have no say as to how their tax money is spent since they cannot vote due to their lack of citizenship.
“Many of our neighbors in Queens [are] unable to participate in [the voting] process because they do not yet have citizen status,” a representative for Queens Community House testified before the City Council in September. “They are here legally, and as such they pay taxes at the same rate as all of us. But they have no say in how their tax money is spent.”
The nonprofit said that the lack of voting rights isn’t just unfair to those excluded, but disadvantageous to all New Yorkers and “a misrepresentation of democracy.”
“If we truly embrace the principle of democracy, then we must recognize its value is not just for the individual but for the whole of society,” the Queens Community House representative said at the council hearing.
A DACA recipient and Corona resident Karina Johanna Buele is urging the council to pass the bill so she and people like her can have a greater say on the future of the city.
“I have lived in New York City since the age of nine, making it 25 years of ongoing contributions to the great city of New York, in which I have never gotten a say as to how, why, when, or who gets to decide on policies that have long affected me, also may have benefitted me, and/or impacted me,” Buele said during the hearing.
She said the legislation would not just benefit green card holders and other permanent legal residents but New York City as a whole.
“We shouldn’t be afraid of letting more New Yorkers participate in our democracy,” Buele said. “We should be leading the fight to expand voting rights and be a model for the rest of the country.”