New York could become the first major city in the nation to allow some non-citizens to vote in local elections as the city council considers a measure that would enfranchise hundreds of thousands of immigrants.
Talking Points Memo reports that the New York City Council began hearings on Thursday concerning the "Voting by Non-Citizen Residents Act," a proposal that would grant voting rights to immigrants who are "lawfully present in the United States" and have lived in New York for "six months or longer" on election day. These immigrants would also have to meet all current state voter registration requirements as well. They would also have to show valid identification when voting.
The Associated Press reports that as many as 800,000 green card and visa holders would be eligible to vote in elections for mayor, council members and other municipal offices.
Proponents of the measure say it will give immigrants a voice in the communities in which they are stakeholders.
"I think that their voices will be heard louder and clearer," Councilman Ydanis Rodriguez (D), himself an immigrant from the Dominican Republic, said.
"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 (D), who is co-sponsoring the measure along with Councilwoman Gale Brewer (D), told TPM.
"We're all involved in politics since we're born," 70-year-old Dominican immigrant Jose Torrero told the AP through a translator. "And the people who look for government to work for them have to be involved in the political process."
But Mayor Michael Bloomberg does not support the measure.
"Voting is the most important right we are granted as citizens, and you should have to go through the process of becoming a citizen and declaring allegiance to this country before being given that right," Bloomberg said through a spokeswoman.
But because the measure likely enjoys a veto-proof majority in the council, there is nothing Bloomberg can do to stop it from advancing. Supporters believe it could become law by the end of the year. Council Speaker Christine Quinn (D), who is running for mayor, has not yet stated her stance on granting non-citizens voting rights.
If approved, New York City would become the largest municipality in the US to grant some non-citizens voting rights.
"It would send a big message to the rest of the country and embolden campaigns which are ongoing in other places like San Francisco, Portland (Maine), Washington, DC and other places," Ron Hayduk, founder of the New York Coalition to Expand Voting Rights, told TPM. "It would certainly be viewed favorably by immigrants' rights advocates and be seen by other policy makers as another level of discussion about the whole business of the role of immigrants in the United States."