New York City could soon give more than one million of its noncitizen residents the right to vote in local elections.
The city council is currently drafting legislation that could be introduced as soon as this spring which would permit noncitizens who are legally documented residents to vote in municipal elections, according to The Guardian. Non-citizens currently make up around 21 percent of the voting age population of the city and almost one million of the 1.3 million non-citizens in New York are documented immigrants who would be enfranchised by the law change.
The proposal, which has been discussed since 2013, 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.
“New York immigrants contribute around $18.2 billion in New York state taxes annually, and that’s a sizable proportion of people with no representation in the city they invest in,” Joanna Cuevas Ingram, an attorney for LatinoJustice and a member of the Coalition to Expand Voting Rights, told ThinkProgress.
Voting advocates say the measure would be fair, considering how the one million-plus documented immigrants contribute state income taxes, send their children to public schools and participate in other aspects of their communities. But the few Republican lawmakers on the city council are more hesitant. “The right to vote is a privilege and a sacred obligation that citizens have enjoyed,” Eric Ulrich, who represents a district in Queens on the city council, told Newsday. “It should only be for United States citizens. It’s also a reason for people who are on a path to citizenship to aspire to citizenship. It’s something for them to look forward to.”
A number of smaller towns already allow non-citizens to vote in local elections, including six small towns in Maryland, and Chicago allows noncitizens to vote in school elections. New York City also allowed noncitizens to vote in school board elections until 2003 when the city school boards were disbanded. If it were to pass this legislation, New York would be the largest city to extend the right to vote to noncitizens in all municipal elections.
New York’s immigrant population has surged in the last decade. For the first time in 2010, according to the census, black, Hispanic and Asian residents of New York City and its suburbs were a majority of the metropolitan area’s more than 19 million residents. The trend in New York City is happening across the country — according to a recent report, whites will make up 46 percent of eligible voters by 2060 — down 24 points from today. Meanwhile, Latinos will make huge gains of 15 points.
In addition to granting the right to vote to one in five adult New Yorkers, the measure could also help encourage voters to go to the polls during a time of low voter turnout, both in New York City local elections and federal elections. In 2013, only 24 percent of eligible voters cast ballots in the election in which Mayor Bill De Blasio was elected.
“New York has historically been a very politically active city and I think if people were given the opportunity, something they were denied before, I think people will take the opportunity to utilize it,” Cuevas Ingram said. “The opportunity should be available, whether or not people are cynical about their politics.”
Kevin Douglas, co-director of policy for New York City’s United Neighborhood Houses, told ThinkProgress the expansion of the vote would also positively affect communities and their residents who are already enfranchised.
“In many communities in New York City, there’s very low voter participation rate and what we have are people that are legal residents that have the same concerns, whether its about trash pickup, the public schools or how local dollars are being spent,” he said. “To the extent we’re able to expand the electorate to which elected officials are accountable to, we think that would yield a greater benefit because the interests of the citizen body and the legal resident body are essentially the same when they’re living in the same community.”
Mayor De Blasio has not explicitly endorsed a noncitizen voting measure, but he has said he is open to the debate. De Blasio has also been the driving force behind other initiatives that have expanded rights for immigrants in New York City, including a program to issue municipal ID cards to the approximately 500,000 undocumented immigrants in the city.