If the legislation is approved in December, as expected, New York City will become the country's largest city that allows legal residents to vote.
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Authors: Jeffery C. Mays and Annie Correal
For decades, New York City legislators and immigration advocates have been pushing for legislation to allow non-citizen legal residents to vote in municipal elections, a right they enjoyed in school board elections, until the board was abolished in the early 2000s.
Now, city lawmakers, ignoring the opposition of Mayor Bill de Blasio, are working to make non-referendums a reality.
The City Council plans to approve a bill allowing more than 800,000 non-citizen New Yorkers to register as members of political parties and vote in municipal elections, provided they hold a green card or have the right to work in the United States.
The measure is expected to receive veto approval on December 9. It will allow non-citizens to vote in local elections and will not apply to federal or state elections. But this measure raises long-standing questions about who should be allowed to participate in the country’s democratic process.
Supporters insist that immigrants who live in the city legally, pay taxes, send their children to public schools, and rely on city services should have a say in who becomes the mayor or represents them in the city council.
Opponents say the bill will weaken citizens’ voting rights and prevent immigrants from trying to become citizens.
Mr. de Blasio said at a press conference on Tuesday that he would not veto the legislation. But he expressed concern that if the bill prevents residents from seeking the bill, it will undermine the "value of citizenship." Mr. De Blasio, a Democrat, also said that he believes that only the state legislature can grant non-citizens the right to vote-many experts disagree.
The main opponent, Republican Congressman Joseph Borelli, who represents Staten Island, went further, saying that the bill would "weaken" citizens' votes.
"People who have lived here for 30 days will have a say in how we raise taxes, debt and long-term pension liabilities," he said. "These are things that temporary residents should not have a say."
The push to allow non-citizens to vote in New York City comes as an increasingly polarized country is dealing with a series of new laws restricting voting, as well as economic problems caused by declining immigration.
Voters in Alabama, Colorado, and Florida passed voting measures last year, stipulating that only U.S. citizens can vote. Like Arizona and North Dakota, non-citizens cannot vote in state and local elections.
On the other hand, several cities and towns in Maryland and Vermont have granted non-citizens some municipal voting rights, and non-citizens can vote in the school board elections in San Francisco. Other cities in California, Maine, Illinois, and Massachusetts are weighing similar legislation.
"In the so-called blue states, we are moving towards expansion, which includes expanding non-referendums," said Joshua A. Douglas, a professor at the J. David Rosenberg School of Law at the University of Kentucky who studies voting rights and electoral law. In the so-called red place, you are putting more restrictions on voting rights, including non-citizens. The entire voting rights world has become more polarized, even worse than normal."
At a rally outside the city hall on Tuesday, supporters of the bill embraced and held back tears and chanted "Yes, we can" in Spanish because they shared the stories of legal residents and they felt that they had not spoken about city services Right to tax dollars to help finance.
“It’s important for the Democrats to look at New York City. When voting rights are under attack, we are expanding the participation of voters,” said Idenis Rodriguez, the main initiator of the bill and representative of Washington Heights in Upper Manhattan. Said. Mr. Rodriguez is a former green card holder of the Dominican Republic and became a citizen in 2000.
Historians say that the debate about non-referendum voting rights is as old as this country, and into the 20th century, many states allowed this practice.
Alexander Keyssar, professor of history and social policy at Harvard University and author of "The Right to Vote: A Controversial History of American Democracy," said that at the beginning of American history, there was no connection between citizenship and voting rights. Rights-voting rights are determined by the state or city government, and citizenship is the responsibility of the federal government. This connection began to develop gradually in the early 19th century and became "very close" in the 1960s.
Dr. Keyssar said that the “basic tradition” surrounding voting rights has always been “the expectation that voting rights will not be extended to people who only come here in a short period of time — but should be extended to people who plan to work here. A long time. For this reason, he said, the city council’s move to extend voting rights to non-citizens "does not break the long tradition."
Eric Foner, professor emeritus of history at Columbia University and an expert on slavery and 19th-century American issues, said that historical politicians support or oppose the granting of rights, depending on whether they think it will benefit them in the election. . Race is also a factor, because blacks and West Coast Chinese have long been refused to vote.
"Many of them are related to various prejudices and beliefs about who should be American, who should have the right to vote and be represented," he said. "This has been arguing, and it is still arguing."
The latest version of the New York City Act also extends the scope of voting to people who have obtained work permits, such as so-called dreamers—immigrants who were brought into the country illegally as a child but were allowed to live and work here through a federal program are called DACAs.
Of the estimated 808,000 adult New Yorkers with legal permanent residents, green card holders, or work permits, approximately 130,000 are from the Dominican Republic; according to the Mayor’s Office of Immigration Affairs, another 117,500 are from China. The bill requires immigrants to become residents of New York City for 30 days, otherwise they are eligible to vote under state law.
Although 34 of the 51 city council members received veto power and acted as public advocates for the co-sponsors, the legislation has not made progress until now, partly because of concerns about its legality.
But the committee’s legal staff determined that there is no federal or state law prohibiting New York City from expanding voting rights in local elections, although it also concluded that the bill may be vulnerable to challenge.
"Any restrictions currently documented actually only apply to federal and state elections," said Anuchoshi, vice president of policy for the New York Immigration Coalition, an umbrella organization representing hundreds of community immigrant and refugee groups.
Professor Douglas said that nothing in the New York State Constitution specifically prohibits non-referendum voting. The state explicitly grants referendum rights, but does not deny that non-citizens enjoy these rights.
But Ron Hejduk, professor of political science at San Francisco State University and author of "Democracy for All: Restoring the Voting Rights of American Immigrants," said he expects the new law to trigger a lawsuit.
"Given that there are legal challenges in other places like Vermont, and because immigration is such a hot issue, I can't imagine that there will be no legal challenges in New York," he said.
Eric Adams, the mayor-elect, has said that green card holders should have the right to participate in local elections and even urged the passage of the City Council legislation.
Evan Thies, a spokesman for Mr. Adams, said that the new mayor will review the city's legal department's analysis of the bill after taking office in January.
If the legislation is passed as expected, the New York City Electoral Commission will issue separate voter registration forms for green card holders and other non-citizens who have the right to work. In the polls, these voters will fill in a ballot that only has the New York City office. The legislation requires the training of voting staff and community education activities to ensure that every voter receives the correct ballot.
The board of directors has faced issues regarding its handling of elections in the past, most recently in June, when it failed to vote for rankings for the first time in a major election in New York City.
Election Commission spokesperson Valerie Vazquez-Diaz (Valerie Vazquez-Diaz) said that if it is “legal”, the agency is “ready to implement the legislation at any time”.
Murad Awawdeh, executive director of the New York Immigration Union, said that during the pandemic, many non-citizens risked their lives to work in groceries, restaurants and other important industries and won the right to vote.
"It boils down to corners and gaps such as garbage and how the budget is spent," he said. "Our community members have strong opinions on these things."
Woojung Park, 22, is a DACA recipient and Hunter College student, lives in Queens and is the organizer of the MinKwon Community Action Center, a community organization in Flushing, Queens. Her parents brought her back to the United States from Korea and now runs a nail salon in the Bronx.
She said that the Asian American community in Flushing is facing a housing crisis, with many people living in illegal or inappropriate conditions, some of them living in basements that were flooded after Hurricane Ida. During the pandemic, residents of Flushing are also grappling with the lasting impact of the wave of xenophobia and hate crimes against Asian Americans.
"Being able to support Asian American candidates will definitely change the political atmosphere in Flushing," Ms. Park said.