The City Council is drafting legislation to let noncitizens vote in New York City's municipal elections, a move that could bolster the clout of recent immigrants in races across the five boroughs.
The policy, if enacted, would make the city one of just eight jurisdictions in the nation, and by far the largest, where U.S. citizenship isn't required to cast a ballot, according to iVote NYC, a coalition of immigrant advocates and allied groups that supports the change.
"I believe that in a democracy, everybody should participate, and I don't see how you call something a democracy when you don't give everybody that opportunity to participate," said Councilman Daniel Dromm, (D-Queens), earlier this month. He is pushing the latest effort.
Dromm said a bill is being readied and conversations with the mayor's office would begin soon. The change would cover only New York City residents with legal immigration status.
A past version of the bill was favored by a council majority, but it languished for years. Then-Speaker Christine Quinn did not bring it to the floor and Mayor Michael Bloomberg opposed it. It died in 2013. Current Speaker Melissa Mark-Viverito (D-Manhattan), who backed the effort two years ago as a rank-and-file councilwoman, called for "more inclusive voting" in a major policy speech last month.
Mayor Bill de Blasio has said he did not support past legislation but is open to a "conversation" with proponents. The council's Republican minority would oppose any such bill, spokesman Peter Spencer said.
"The right to vote is a privilege and a sacred obligation that citizens have enjoyed. It should only be for United States citizens," said Councilman Eric Ulrich (R-Queens), one of three Republicans in the 51-member body. "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."
The liberal Fiscal Policy Institute estimates that the voter franchise extension could make up to 1 million noncitizens eligible to vote, and experts say it could have a profound impact on voter demographics. There were 4.6 million registered voters in the city last year, according to the state Board of Elections.
"Noncitizen voting would probably enhance the power of Democrats -- not that they particularly need it in this city," said Doug Muzzio, a political scientist at Baruch College. Registered Democrats already outnumber Republicans 6 to 1.
Enfranchising noncitizens could be consequential in at least 20 of the 51 City Council districts, helping primary- and general-election candidates who appeal to immigrant ethnic groups, said Jerry Skurnik, a political consultant who analyzes voter lists. "It would probably help a Hispanic candidate in a citywide race," he said.
For much of the country's first 150 years, 40 states and federal territories allowed noncitizens to vote, but more restrictive laws came amid anti-immigrant fervor in the 1920s. New York City allowed parents regardless of immigration status to vote in community school board elections from 1969 to 2002, when the Board of Education was abolished.
The proposal has the potential to remake the electoral landscape, said Ron Hayduk, a Queens College professor and author on immigrant voting.
"Part plain arithmetic, part electoral calculus, if there's a potential 1 million new voters, the candidates and the parties might want to capitalize on that potential and attract those folks to them," he said.
The last version of the bill called for enfranchising legal immigrants who have lived in New York for at least six months. It would have permitted them to register in parties and cast ballots in local races including those for mayor, comptroller, public advocate, borough president and the council.