What’s Really Happening With Undocumented Immigrants Voting in NYC?
New York City is home to more than one million undocumented immigrants. Unlike what certain presidential candidates or xenophobes might say, undocumented immigrants do pay taxes and don’t benefit from federal assistance programs or welfare. Without a voice in the city, 21% of the voting age population goes unheard and the last I heard is that the Boston Tea Party began as a revolt against “no taxation without representation.”
Given the climate of presidential elections today and the lack of Congressional action for legalization of undocumented immigrants, extending the right of non-US citizens to vote is a brave concept. Increasing the voter pool could also help increase voting during other important elections cycles. The United States has a history low turnout for eligible voters
A proposal to allow undocumented New Yorkers the right to vote in municipal elections has been in the works since 2013. It’s expected that this bill will be proposed during spring sessions. Presently, only New Yorkers that are U.S. citizens can vote in citywide elections, and a bill to allow non-US citizens to vote in the city would allow people with green cards to have a voice in the city’s affairs as well.
Mayor Bill DiBlasio has already formed a precedent for allowing undocumented New Yorkers form a larger part of the community when he introduced the IDNYC initiative. Passed by a bill on July 2014, the IDNYC initiative began on January 1, 2015 and allowed non-US citizens and the homeless to obtain municipal ID cards because they were unable to get state ID cards. This seemingly small initiative suddenly provided a US-based ID for many who did not possess one. IDNYC is also available to anyone 14 years or older, allowing teenagers an unprecedented access to services previously saved for adults. It was a bold initiative in a city where few people have access to an ID in the form of a driver’s license.
The movement to give non-US citizens the right to vote in city elections is being led by the Coalition to Expand Voting Rights. Their website states that before school boards were broken up in 2003 every parent with a child in the city’s school system was able to vote regardless of immigration status, as such, they believe voting rights can be expanded for other issues.
It is also true that several small towns in Maryland already give non-US citizens, including undocumented immigrants, the right to vote in citywide elections. But the movement to allow this type of inclusiveness in voting isn’t confined to NYC. Washington, DC and San Francisco are also considering similar privileges for non-US citizens who live within their city limits. Technically speaking, allowing non-US citizens is not against the country’s Constitution.
The initiative is not without its detractors. According to the NY Post, conservative Chairman Mike Long accused liberals of trying to “buy votes” and increase membership to the Democratic Party. But the right for non-US citizens to vote still has a lot of support. The co-director of New York City’s United Neighborhood Houses, Kevin Douglas, told ThinkProgress that “the interests of the citizen body and the legal resident body are essentially the same when they’re living in the same community.” The increase in voter participation would also create more accountability among leaders chosen by communities, said Douglas.
Should this proposal pass, it would make New York City the biggest city in the country to allow non-US citizens the right to vote in municipal elections. Non-US citizen residents of NYC would have to live in the city for a minimum of six months to be able to vote in city-wide elections. As of now, this voting extension initiative is supported by organizations such as The Black Institute, Faith in New York, Make the Road New York, Arts and Democracy, among others.