A bill that would expand voting rights to some immigrants who are not US citizens was introduced Thursday in the New York City Council.
City Councilman Ydanis Rodriguez, an immigrant from the Dominican Republic, is sponsoring the legislation, which would give the right to vote in municipal elections to New York residents who are legal permanent residents or have a work authorization.
Nearly one million New York City residents cannot vote in local elections because they are not citizens, according to Rodriguez’s office, despite paying taxes and being invested in and contributing to the city.
“I believe it is important to include those individuals that we have left out of the process… They deserve to live in a real democracy where they also have the opportunity to vote in municipal elections,” Rodriguez said.
The issue is personal for Rodriguez, who first came to the United States in 1983 with a green card. He obtained full citizenship status in 2000. In the years in between, the New York City lawmaker says he worked washing dishes, in a factory and as a taxi driver and contributed to the city through taxes, but was unable to civically participate in elections.
Though this isn’t the first time the bill is being introduced – iterations of the bill were proposed in 2009 and 2013 – Rodriguez told CNN he is more confident than before that the legislation will pass in the Council this time because it already has majority support on the council. The new measure has 30 cosponsors on the 51-member Council.
“We got a chance now. This is about making our City a role model to larger municipalities,” Rodriguez said.
Some of the bill’s limitations include a residency minimum of 30 days and the creation of a municipal voter registration form by the city’s Board of Elections, which would manage the list of new voters who are noncitizens.
The announcement of the bill comes as immigration issues continue to be a flashpoint nationally, with the resettlement of refugees and President Donald Trump’s continued efforts to build a border wall between Mexico and the US. Trump has, without evidence, spread the conspiracy theory that undocumented immigrants illegally voted for Hillary Clinton in 2016.
The concept and practice of noncitizens voting is far from new. While noncitizens can’t vote in federal elections, a few local jurisdictions have provided some voting rights. In San Francisco, noncitizens – including undocumented immigrants – can vote in local school board elections. And a number of Maryland cities have extended voting rights to noncitizens.
As of 2018, there were a little more than 22 million legal noncitizens in the US, 800,000 of whom resided in New York City, according to the latest US Census data.
Nora Moran, director of policy and advocacy for United Neighborhood Houses, applauding the New York City effort, highlighted this voting bloc potential citing New York City’s notorious low voter turnout.
“We have very low rates of voter turnout in New York and we think that anyway that we that additional people can be enfranchised – encouraged to vote, understand the importance of voting – is a good thing,” said Moran.
“We are looking forward to when that time comes, that anybody that is eligible to vote will be able to do so and that it enriches the democratic process as we head into future elections,” she added.
If passed and signed into law by New York Mayor Bill de Blasio, the earliest the change would be effective is for the 2021 citywide elections, according to Rodriguez. All citywide offices are up for reelection next year, including mayor, comptroller, public advocate, all five borough presidents and 35 of the 51 Council seats.