Oct. 26, 2010 By Councilman Daniel Dromm
It is time for our evolving democracy to embrace voting rights in local elections for all residents. We are all stakeholders in our community and should have a say in important local issues. In the words of the Revolutionary patriots who put their lives on the line for the freedoms we enjoy today, “No taxation without representation.”
Our democracy is becoming ever more inclusive, but we still have a long way to go. Over the years, we have recognized the right of African Americans, women, and others to vote. Even so, this progress has not yet extended to all residents. Tax paying residents who do not yet have citizenship cannot vote, even in local elections.
For much of our nation’s history, this was not always the case. There have been at least twenty states that did not restrict state or local voting based on citizenship. Here in the state of New York, there was no such requirement for voting in state elections until the early 1800s. More recently, New York City allowed all parents of public school children to vote for their school boards from 1969 until 2003, when the school boards were abolished.
Under our current laws, one in five adult New York City residents cannot vote because they are not yet citizens. This prohibition stands in stark contrast to the ability of our great democracy to grow and evolve along with our society. In my district, over 65% of the residents are immigrants, many of whom do not have a voice in decisions that most directly impact their daily lives. These community members have, for example, no right to vote on matters concerning the education of their children, the safety of their neighborhoods, or the future of communities. A system where the overwhelming majority of people are disenfranchised is unfair, undemocratic, and un-American.
We are a city of immigrants. Everyone who lives in New York is a vital member of our community. Immigrants have built our neighborhoods and communities by paying taxes, supporting and creating local businesses, and contributing to our rich heritage and culture. More importantly, immigrants are, and always have been, our colleagues, neighbors, friends, and families.
Extending voting rights has another practical benefit. Including immigrants in the democratic process will help integrate them into our communities and better prepare them for when they do become citizens. If someone feels they have a say in what happens, they are more likely to care for their community. I want to see immigrants integrated into the wider community, not alienated as they are under current law. Moreover, elected officials will be more accountable when more of their constituents can vote.
New York has always been a beacon for both immigrants and democracy. This is why we should lead the way in ensuring that our non-citizen community members can exercise the right to vote in local elections. Many of us vote because we want to participate in the decisions that allow our city to grow and prosper. I believe it is important for all of us to make these decisions together. Immigrant or American born, we each have a valuable voice and when all of us are permitted to engage in the political process our communities become stronger.
New York City Council Member, 25th District
Chair, Immigration Committee