Council passes voting bill for immigrants

The City Council passed a bill on Thursday that will allow 808,0000 noncitizens to vote in municipal elections for the mayor, comptroller and borough president.

The Immigrant Voting Bill, also know as Intro. 1867, has passed the City Council with overwhelming support with 33 affirmative to 14 negative votes on Monday. 

The bill, introduced in its current iteration by City Councilman Ydanis Rodriguez (D-Manhattan), was the first one he sponsored when he joined the Council 12 years ago and he has seen it through before he leaves office due to term limits.

“We have been here since 2009,” said Rodriguez at a speech in City Hall Thursday. “This was one of the first bill’s that I signed ... and for me, this is a train that hasn’t stopped.”

The initial version of the bill, which allows noncitizens the right to vote in municipal elections, was co-sponsored in 2005 by Councilman Bill Perkins (D-Manhattan) and then-Councilman Charles Barron (D-Brooklyn). 

“There were two great African American leaders who led this fight,” said Rodriguez. “So thank you.”

One of the last people to vote in support of the bill was newly minted Councilwoman Tiffany Cabán (D-Astoria), who was sworn in on Dec. 1 and had replaced the former District 22 leader, Costa Constantinides, who left his office to take a job in the nonprofit sector. 

“I feel really, really strongly about this,” said Cabán. “When I took office, the first piece of legislation I signed on to was this one.”

The bill allows 808,000 green card holders, Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals recipients and those who have permits to work in the United States the right to vote in citywide elections and select the next mayor, comptroller, borough president and City Council members, according to the Mayor’s Office of Immigrant Affairs.

Of that number, 622,000 are lawful permanent residents or green card holders. The top 10 countries that LPRs are from are the Dominican Republic (131,000), China (117,500), Mexico (34,700), Jamaica (33,600), Ecuador (29,700), Bangladesh (25,200), India (24,100), India (24,100), Guyana (22,300), Haiti (18,400) and Trinidad and Tobago (15,400). Immigrants from the top 10 countries make up 451,900 of green card holders.

Noncitizens who have resided in the city for at least 30 days would be allowed to register to vote on Dec. 9, 2022 and vote as early as Jan. 9, 2023 via a separate voter municipal-only ballot, which the city’s Board of Elections will provide, according to the legislation. 

The other Queens lawmakers who voted for the bill are Councilmembers Francisco Moya (D-Corona), Peter Koo (D-Flushing), Daniel Dromm (D-Jackson Heights), Jimmy Van Bramer (D-Sunnyside), Daneek Miller (D-St. Albans) and Adrienne Adams (D-Jamaica). 

“This is groundbreaking legislation that will finally allow almost 1 million community residents to vote for their local representatives,” said Councilman Koo. “These individuals already live and work in our community, and as more people vote, the more reflective our government will be of the people they represent.”

Adams had similar sentiments.

“Our immigrant communities helped shepherd New York City through a crisis, yet they don’t have a voice in choosing who represents them in local government,” she said “That should change, and with the passage of Intro. 1867, we will empower New York City’s immigrants to participate in municipal elections.”

Over half the frontline essential workers at the height of the coronavirus pandemic are immigrants and one in five are noncitizen New Yorkers, according to Rodriguez. 

These immigrants also have given economically to the Big Apple, he added. 

“Immigrants in New York City own over half of the local businesses and contribute over $190 billion dollars to the citywide [gross domestic product].”

Mayor de Blasio said he had mixed feelings about the bill at a Dec. 9 press conference, but he did not veto it. 

“Right now, I still have very mixed feelings about it. I’ve been honest about that,” said de Blasio. “That hasn’t changed a bit. I think there are still some outstanding legal questions about the City’s authority versus the State’s in this matter. But I respect the City Council.”

Mayor-elect Eric Adams supports the bill, but also has qualms the legislation may be an overstep of the City Council.

GOP lawmakers and members of the Republican National Committee have a stronger view than the mayor about the legality of the bill, despite Rodriguez having it vetted by lawyers before introducing it, and are prepared to sue.

“American citizens should decide American elections — full stop,” said Ronna McDaniel, chairwoman of the RNC. “Today’s decision in New York is the product of a radical, power-hungry Democrat Party that will stop at nothing to undermine election integrity. Allowing our elections to be decided by foreign citizens is unacceptable, and the RNC is looking closely at our legal options as we continue our fight to protect your ballot.”

Despite the concerns about the legality of the bill and Republicans finding it un-American, election laws in the United States have been loose since the founding of the country, according to political experts cited in a July report by The Pew Charitable Trust, a branch of Pew Research Center, a nonpartisan American think tank.

Up until the early 20th century, Americans — almost exclusively white Christian males — regardless of documentation or status, were allowed to vote in local, state and federal elections and even hold office, according to The Pew Trusts. The federal government has let local and state laws set the precedent to determine whether a noncitizen could vote in a municipal and statewide election since 1996.

That has led to states like Alabama, Colorado, Florida, Arizona, North Dakota restricting their voting laws to only American citizens. Maryland and Vermont have allowed immigrant municipal voting in their states and people in municipalities in California, Illinois, Massachusetts are weighing a similar measure to New York City. 

Republicans are not the only people opposing the bill.

Queens Councilmembers Robert Holden (D-Middle Village), James Gennaro (D-Hillcrest), Karen Koslowitz (D-Forest Hills) and Paul Vallone (D-Bayside) voted against it, along with the borough’s lone Republican, Councilman Eric Ulrich (R-Ozone Park).

“Voting is a sacred right that must remain tied to citizenship,” said Holden. “This bill would chip away at the value of citizenship and the incentive for new Americans to make the commitment to become citizens. Citizenship and suffrage must not be torn from each other.

“If you want to become a citizen, you become a citizen by doing months of study. Obviously, you study the Bill of Rights, you answer 100 questions, you become a citizen and you’re an educated voter by then, hopefully. This bill says that we don’t really want an educated voter. Somebody who is here 30 days can vote in our elections and decide who our mayor, City Council and other elected officials could be. Simply providing a ballot in someone’s native language doesn’t mean that they will understand the issues at stake or what benefits them.”

Councilwoman Selvena Brooks-Powers (D-Laurelton) abstained from voting because of the 30-day section of the bill.

“I am proud to support the fundamental intent of Intro 1867,” said Brooks-Powers. “I am a first-generation American, and for my entire life, I have seen firsthand the profound role immigrants like my parents play in our communities.

 “My primary concern with 1867 as passed is the 30-day residency requirement based on constituent feedback. And, while I received commitments to address my issue, no action was taken, making it impossible for me to support the bill as written and passed. Out of respect to those who have sent me to City Hall, my vote must be an extension of their voice. The Council cannot simply act as a rubber stamp on major issues. We have a responsibility to advance and perfect legislation through an informed process ... to address all concerns.”

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