On Thursday, the New York City Council started debating a proposal that would give non-citizens the right to vote in municipal elections. If passed, all legal residents of New York City, regardless of citizenship, would be able to vote as long as they had lived in the city for at least six months and passed all the other standard voting requirements.
"This is extremely important, because it's based on the founding principle of this country and that was, 'No Taxation Without Representation,'" councilman Daniel Dromm, who co-authored the bill, told Talking Points Memo. "All of the people who would be included in this and would be allowed to vote are paying taxes, they've contributed to society."
This is not just a pipe-dream either. Allan Wernick of the New York Daily News reports that the City Council has a veto-proof majority that supports the proposal. Mayor Michael Bloomberg has officially opposed the measure, telling TPM through his spokesperson that "you should have to go through the process of becoming a citizen and declaring allegiance to this country before being given that right."
Bloomberg also claims that it violates the state constitution. Some expert groups, like the New York County Bar Association and Brennan Center for Justice, say that as a charter city, New York can pass the bill without permission from the state, according to the Daily News.
Another reason Bloomberg might oppose the bill? As Max Rivlin-Nadlerthis notes in Gothamist, "It would just drastically shift New York City's demographics towards a more progressive electorate." According to the latest Census data, more than 3 million New Yorkers are foreign-born, totaling nearly a third of the city's population (it should be noted that the Census doesn't include information on whether the foreign-born are U.S. citizens or foreign nationals.)
Wernick points out that non-citizens in New York City were previously allowed to vote in local school board elections before the city eliminated school boards. The reasoning behind that decision — that even non-citizen parents should have a say in how their children are educated — should apply to this larger bill, writes Wernick: "Now, permanent residents, who pay the same taxes as U.S. citizens, seek the same public safety, and serve and die for our country, want a say in electing those who run our city."
What happens in New York City could affect campaigns to allow non-citizen voting in other cities like Washington, D.C., San Francisco, and Portland, Maine. Several weeks ago, the California Assembly passed a bill allowing non-citizens to serve on juries. Its sponsor, assemblyman Bob Wieckowski, said it would help immigrants integrate into American society and make sure there were enough eligible people to serve on juries, according to The Los Angeles Times.
If approved, New York City's bill to expand voting rights to non-citizens could go into effect as early as November.