NEW YORK:___What does it mean to be a New Yorker? For some, it means navigating the subway without the help of a map. For others, it is all about how well you know your New York history. For many, it involves raising our voices, standing up for what we believe in, and participating in local civic life here in the five boroughs.
Yet for more than 900,000 immigrant New Yorkers who work, live, raise their families and pay taxes here, something as simple as casting a vote for their councilmember is out of the question. The good news is that there is a bill before the New York City Council right now that would grant the right to vote to immigrants who are lawfully permanent residents and those with work authorization in New York.
This bill, which currently has the support of 27 Council members, three borough presidents, Controller Scott Stringer and Public Advocate Jumaane Williams, would grant voting rights in municipal elections, such as races for mayor, controller, public advocate, borough president and City Council, to nearly one million immigrant New Yorkers. This is our opportunity to right a historic wrong and help fulfill this city’s longstanding vision of a truly representative democracy for those who call New York home.
At Women Creating Change, we’ve been advocating for voting rights and civic engagement for more than 100 years, and in 2020, the work continues. It is fitting to have a conversation about how to modernize the electorate in 2020, as we celebrate the centennial of the ratification of the 19th Amendment — the single greatest expansion of voting rights in U.S. history. Having been directly involved in the women’s suffrage movement, WCC is proud to raise our voices once again to expand democracy as part of the Our City, Our Vote Coalition, led by our incredible partners, the New York Immigration Coalition and United Neighborhood Houses.
There are already successful immigrant municipal voting programs in San Francisco, Takoma Park, Md., and more than 45 countries.
In New York City, this latest effort is the fourth bill put before the Council on noncitizen voting since 2005. This legislation has strong privacy protections and the ability to build on participatory budgeting — which has already brought new voices into the city’s voting process.
We know that local contests are often just as consequential as federal or state-level elections. It’s past time we afforded all New Yorkers the right to have a say in how their neighborhoods are governed.
At a time when the federal government continues to take aim at immigrants — both those who are in the country legally and those without documentation — New York City has an opportunity to stand firm in its commitment to our immigrant neighbors. Legislators should do the right thing: schedule a hearing on this important piece of legislation and finally vote to expand the electorate to include this community. Immigrant New Yorkers have already built this city’s culture, education system, and economy — making up 46% of our city’s workforce. It’s time we let them help build our democracy, too.