While thousands of people lined up in schools, churches and synagogues to cast their votes for city offices and state proposals, another group stood huddled together in Jackson Heights to conduct an election of their own.
The New York Coalition to Expand Voting Rights conducted a mock election complete with mock voting booths, ballots, poll workers and ballot boxes in Diversity Plaza.
An estimated 900,000 legal immigrants who hold green cards, student visas, worker visas or are otherwise legally permitted to reside in the country are not permitted to vote in local elections.
“It is an issue of plain fairness and democracy,” said Irma Rodriguez, the executive director of Queens Community House. “A lot of things are decided by our legislative bodies that really affect people at the local level, and when you have a huge population who have no way to vote for the people who make these decisions, then our democracy loses and our neighborhoods lose.”
Though the mock election was just an exercise and did not count toward the actual ballot tally, elected officials and residents said that it is important to make people aware of the problem.
Contrary to immigrants who come into the country illegally, these people are still expected to pay taxes like any other citizen, leaving many with a sour taste in their mouths.
“I would like to have the opportunity to exercise my right to vote in local elections, and with that right, the power to decide who will manage the distribution of tax dollars I pay to the city,” said Lillian Castillo, a Jackson Heights resident who cast her vote at the mock election on Tuesday.
Councilman Daniel Dromm (D-Jackson Heights), who helped organize the event, has sponsored Intro. 410 that would restore municipal voting rights to immigrants lawfully present in New York City for at least six months.
“Voting is a basic right in a democracy,” Dromm said. “Fifty-five percent of the people in my district are not able to vote because of their immigration status and that is not what this country is about. The majority rules with protection for the minority. People who are legally present in the United States and who work, pay taxes and live in our neighborhoods must have the opportunity to participate in municipal elections.”
Many speakers equated the fight for voting reform to the fight for women and black voting rights, saying that allowing immigrants to vote is an important and necessary step for New York City to take at a time when many restrictions have been placed on the voting process throughout the country.
“The time has come for the city to allow legal residents to vote in municipal elections,” said Councilwoman and Speaker hopeful Melissa Mark-Viverito (D-Manhattan, Bronx). “Imagine what adding over 1 million New Yorkers to the electorate would mean for civic engagement and fair representation in our communities? I look forward to working with Council Member Dromm and my colleagues to advance this piece of legislation in the City Council next session.”
Voting in the mock election took place from 7 a.m. to 9 p.m. and passersby were encouraged to let their voices be heard with hope that by next Election Day, legal immigrants will be able to step into an actual voting booth.