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Manhattan Electeds, Advocates Rally to Expand Voting Rights

Ydanis Rodriguez delivers a stirring speech (photo by William Engel)
Ydanis Rodriguez delivers a stirring speech (photo by William Engel)

Are all taxpaying Americans entitled to a complete, unabridged right to vote? Conventional wisdom dictates that they are. So why, then, do we deny that right to a sizable subset of our taxpaying population?

Currently, the state of New York does not allow Green Card holders and work permit holders to vote in local elections. This law excludes nearly one million New Yorkers from the election process, even though they pay taxes and contribute to the community.

Yesterday, a bevy of Manhattan lawmakers and activists gathered to announce the launch of #OurCityOurVote, a campaign to bring all of those New Yorkers into the fold.

The announcement took place at 12 p.m. yesterday, on the steps of City Hall. At the helm was Council Member Ydanis Rodriguez (D-Washington Heights, Inwood), along with several other electeds, including Manhattan Borough President Gale Brewer (D); Public Advocate Jumaane Williams (D); and Council Members Margaret Chin (D-Battery Park City, Chinatown), Ben Kallos (D-Yorkville, Lenox Hill), Carlos Menchaca (D-Brooklyn) and Daniel Dromm (D-Brooklyn).

In concurrence with the campaign launch, Rodriguez announced a piece of legislation that he recently introduced to the Council. The bill would expand the right to vote in municipal elections to include all New Yorkers who are permanent residents, and those who have a work authorization. It would also provide measures to help the city adjust to the change, such as training for poll workers and agency staff responsible for handing out voter registration forms.

The bill has earned the support of 20 different Council Members, and Public Advocate Williams.

“Our immigrants contribute billions of dollars to our economy; and yet, many who are here with Green Cards and working permits will never be enfranchised,” said Rodriguez. “There’s nothing more un-American than denying people who pay their taxes the right to choose their representatives. It is un-American to leave them out of that process.”

Advocates from across the City stand together for immigrant justice [photo by William Engel]

Carlos Menchaca, who helped Rodriguez introduce the bill, pointed out that the idea of letting non-citizens vote is hardly novel. For much of our nation’s early history, there were several states that permitted non-citizens – or “declarant aliens” – to participate in local elections. In some states, the only condition was that non-citizens would have to declare their intention to attain citizenship in the near future.

“This idea that we’re talking about is not a new idea,” said Menchaca. “Until the early 1900s, this was a right given to many immigrants – non-citizen immigrants. And so we are restoring this ability to our immigrant communities.”

Meanwhile, Ben Kallos used his time on the podium to remind the crowd that America – especially New York – owes much of its existence to the hard work of immigrants.

“40 percent of this city is foreign-born,” said Kallos. “My wife is foreign-born. My grandparents came here fleeing anti-Semitism, finding refuge in this great city. It is the story of the Jewish people; it is the story of all people who have found their way here. And we need to make sure that we give these people a vote.”

The press conference also featured testimony from the very people whom the new law will help enfranchise. One such speaker was street vendor Sonia Perez, a Mexican immigrant who has been working in Bushwick for 15 years. Perez argued that, given her contributions to our economy, she deserves just as much of a voice as any citizen.

“As street vendors, we’re a community that contributes to the economy of cities,” said Perez. “It’s very important that we have a say in the local electoral process – that we have a voice. As a permanent resident of New York City, I think I have a right to participate. It’s time to give all New Yorkers the right to vote and have their interests represented.”

Thus far, 45 different organizations have pledged their support for the campaign, including the American Pakistani Advocacy Group, Human Services Council and New York Immigration Coalition.

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