New York City could be the first city in the U.S. to grant non-citizens the right to vote in municipal elections. According to Talking Points Memo, a measure currently before the New York City Council would allow qualifying non-citizens to vote in certain local elections.
The measure appears to have a veto-proof majority in that chamber, which would render the law untouchable by current New York City Mayor Michael Bloomberg. Hearings are set to begin Thursday and supporters say that they believe the measure will be ratified into law by the end of 2013.
Councilman Daniel Dromm, who co-sponsored the bill with Councilwoman Gale Brewer told TPM, “This is extremely important, because it’s based on the founding principle of this country and that was, ‘No Taxation Without Representation.’ All of the people who would be included in this and would be allowed to vote are paying taxes, they’ve contributed to society.”
The “Voting by Non-Citizen Residents Act” would grant voting rights to immigrants who are “lawfully present in the United States” and have lived in New York City for at least six months. To register to vote, they would have to meet the same requirements as citizen voters in New York State, i.e., they must not have been convicted of a felony and they must not have been declared mentally incompetent by a court.
First time voters would be asked to present “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.”
Mayor Michael Bloomberg opposes the measure. Through a spokesperson, his office said that immigrants with green cards who are paying city taxes should nonetheless wait for full citizenship to be allowed to vote, and that before they can be granted the privilege of casting a ballot, they should first be required to swear “allegiance to this country.”
“This bill violates the State constitution and the administration does not support it,” said spokesperson Evelyn Erskine. The New York Daily News said that the constitution only grants the New York State Legislature the authority to confer voting rights to state residents.
Supporters of the bill like Ron Hayduk, an author and founder of the New York Coalition to Expand Voting Rights, argue that New York City enjoys “charter city” status and therefore doesn’t need the state’s approval to modify its laws.
“There’s legal experts that are going to be testifying … that are going to make the case that New York City has the authority to enact this on its own and it will not come into conflict with any state law,” Hayduk said about the Thursday hearings.
“There may be others that dispute that and, if that’s the case, it may end up in the courts,” he said.
New York City would be the largest municipality in the country to grant non-citizens voting rights. Hayduk said that the law’s success, if it happens, would send ripples out through the rest of the country and through the immigration reform debate.
“It would send a big message to the rest of the country and embolden campaigns which are ongoing in other places like San Francisco, and Portland, Maine, and Washington, D.C., and other places,” he said. “It would certainly be viewed favorably by immigrants’ rights advocates and be seen by other policy makers as another level of discussion about the whole business of the role of immigrants in the United States.”
The website Gothamist suggested that Bloomberg fears the immigrant vote because it could potentially “drastically shift New York City’s demographics toward a more progressive electorate.”