‘These people deserve to be heard’: NYC Council makes effort to allow immigrants to vote

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Councilman Ydanis Rodriguez, one of six sponsors of the immigrants bill to vote, is cheered on by the crowd at City Hall. (Photo by Todd Maisel)

A citywide coalition of 45 policy and immigrant rights organizations joined members of the City Council for a City Hall rally to launch “Our City, Our Vote,” a campaign to expand the right to vote in municipal elections to New York residents who are legal permanent residents or have a work

Currently, nearly one million New York City residents cannot vote in local elections due to their citizenship status, despite paying taxes and being invested in and contributing to the city, officials said.

The rally, organized by United Neighborhood Houses (UNH) and the New York Immigration Coalition (NYIC) included people representing numerous ethnic groups, many of whom are immigrants who either only recently became citizens and therefore can vote, or those who are still awaiting citizen status and cannot vote.

“New York City leads the country in promoting the inclusion and empowerment of immigrants, but too many New Yorkers still don’t have a say in the officials that represent them and the policies that impact their families and communities,” said Susan Stamler, executive director of UNH. “Settlement houses know firsthand that ensuring neighborhoods are politically engaged results in better public policies that make our city stronger. We are proud to be a part of this campaign and call on the City Council to pass this legislation.”

The bill was introduced by City Councilman Ydanis Rodriguez, with Immigration Chairman Carlos Menchaca and 26 others co-sponsoring the legislation. With this legislation, individuals must have been a resident of New York City for at least 30 days and otherwise must qualify to register and vote under New York State election law.

The legislation also includes key safeguards such as robust community education, training for poll workers and agency staff who may be handing out voter registration forms, and the ability of a voter to opt out of registering if they did so by mistake.

“I can tell you what is un-American – denying people who pay their taxes the right to choose representatives that will voice their concerns and representatives that will determined where their money is allocated,”  said Councilman Ydanis Rodriguez, a sponsor of the bill. “It is un-American to leave them out of that process.”

“Today in 2020, here in one of the most progressive cities in the country, we will take our place in history to allow green card and worker permits holders to participate in our municipal elections,” continued Rodriguez. “Our immigrant communities, many of which have been living here for decades, will finally be empowered and enfranchised.”

Councilman Menchaca said this idea is not a new ideas, in early 1776 to 1900’s, “this was a right that was given to many immigrants.”

“Non-citizen immigrants were able to participate in the new Democracy that was birthed here in the United States, so we are restoring this ability for our immigrant communities who are not citizens to vote. What is beautiful is that we know it very deeply in communities that participatory budgeting is reporting a tally in our district alone in Sunset Park,  a very popular district for participatory budgeting. 30,000 people have voted in the last six years in Sunset Park and Red Hook – that tells us when we look at who’s voting, they’re voting in English ballots, Chinese ballots, Arabic ballots. More than English ballots – that’s the kind of power that is shaping the city today. We are saying great, let’s keep going — let’s give them the right to choose their local representatives so their voice can be heard.”

Councilman Carlos Menchaca, chairman of the Immigration Committee, says many in his district already vote with non-English voting sheets. (Photo by Todd Maisel)

Also joining the council members was Manhattan Borough President Gale Brewer, who criticized Republicans in the state senate for blocking any efforts to enfranchise immigrants.

“For almost a decade, mostly Republican-dominated state legislatures have been passing bills to disenfranchise votes – voter ID laws, cutbacks on early voting, proof of citizenship law and other more creative ways to make it hard to register and hard to vote,” Brewer said. “This bill will ensure that anywhere from 500,000 to a million city residents would gain the ability to vote. These people deserve to be heard.”

Steve Choi, executive director of the New York immigration Coalition attacked President Donald Trump for making it difficult for immigrants to be represented.

Steve Choi, executive director of the New York immigration Coalition attacked President Donald Trump for making it difficult for immigrants to be represented. (Photo by Todd Maisel)

“We live in a moment when reactionary forces are throwing up barriers to the right to vote, and the President lies about voter fraud,”  Choi told the large crowd at City Hall. “Yet nearly one million New Yorkers are denied the right to vote. They legally live here, work here, go to school here, and are raising families here. Yet, despite paying billions of dollars in taxes, they have no say in the direction of our city. The Our City, Our Vote bill presents an opportunity to right that wrong to create a more inclusive 21st century democracy that works for every New Yorker.”

New Yorkers who are immigrants gathered on City Hall to support the new legislation. (Photo by Todd Maisel)

Editor’s note: An earlier version incorrectly identified the City Council member who sponsored the legislation, and omitted the number of co-sponsors. It has been corrected, and we regret any confusion which may have resulted.