Non-Citizens In New York City May Be Allowed To Vote In Local Elections

In a hearing on Thursday, the New York City Council will consider allowing legal immigrants who are not citizens to vote in municipal elections. The bill, which has broad support in the council, would make New York the largest city to grant non-citizens the right to vote. Currently, only small municipalities in Maryland and Massachusetts allow non-citizens to vote in local elections.

The proposal would let legal immigrants who have lived in the city for six months or more vote in municipal elections if they met the state’s voting requirements:

This legislation, “Voting By Non-Citizen Residents,” would allow immigrants who are “lawfully present in the United States” and have lived in New York for “six months or longer” on the date of a given election to vote provided they meet all the other current requirements for voter registration in New York State. This means they must “not be in prison or on parole for a felony conviction” and “not be declared mentally incompetent by a court.” For their first time voting, they must also provide identification including; “copy of a valid photo ID, current utility bill, bank statement, paycheck, government check, or some other government document that shows your name or address.” Identification requirements would not remain after their initial vote. The bill only affects local races and calls for the registration forms provided to these “municipal voters” to specify that they “are not qualified to vote in state or federal elections.”

New York’s immigrant population has surged in the last decade. In 2008, foreign-born immigrants made up 36.4 percent of the city’s population and 43 percent of the city’s workforce. That means over a third of the city’s population has historically been barred from voting, despite being taxed alongside citizens.

The city has also seen enormous benefits from heavy immigration, according to the State Comptroller’s 2010 report. Immigrants accounted for $215 billion of all economic activity in New York City, and the number of immigrants who own homes doubled between 1991 and 2008. Additionally, the ten neighborhoods with the highest concentration of foreign-born residents saw stronger economic growth than the rest of the city between 2000 and 2007.

In March, Mayor Michael Bloomberg (I-NY) declared that New York was “the most immigrant-friendly city in the world” upon signing two local laws to protect immigrants from being deported for minor crimes. Despite his support for other immigration reform measures, Bloomberg has asserted that non-citizen voting violates the state constitution. Still, Bloomberg’s opposition may not matter if the proposal passes with the expected veto-proof majority.

Campaigns to allow non-citizen voting are underway in other cities, including San Francisco, Portland, Maine, and Washington, D.C. Should New York’s proposal pass, it could serve as a framework for other major cities with large immigrant populations.