The New York City Council decided to give eligible non-citizen residents a chance to vote in local elections last week. The move has received mixed reviews in the city. 

“During the height of the pandemic, it was our immigrant New Yorkers who kept New York City running. Over half of our front-line essential workers are immigrants and approximately 1 in 5 are non-citizens New Yorkers,” said Councilmember Ydanis Rodriguez who sponsored the bill.  “They have all earned the right to participate in our city elections.” 

Rodriguez is a major advocate for immigrants’ rights. Rodriguez, an immigrant himself, became a U.S citizen in 2000 and first became a councilmember in 2009. During the mayoral debates this October, Rodriguez was targeted by then-mayoral candidate Curtis Sliwa in an effort to fire shots at his opponent and Mayor-elect Eric Adams. Sliwa had erroneously claimed that Rodriguez was not a citizen.

Adeel Ahmed, community organizer with the Black Institute, said that the negative attention and rhetoric against the bill is “hypocritical and unjust.” Ahmed pointed out that hundreds of thousands of noncitizens are Caribbean, Latino, or African. Giving these demographics the opportunity to vote wouldn’t suppress or disenfranchise Black/African American voters, said Ahmed, because they’re all part of the same communities.

“All this rhetoric being thrown around is the rhetoric of fear,” said Ahmed, “it is time for people of color to come together and embrace voter empowerment for each other and it is the just thing to do.” 

Under the bill Intro 1867, basically all immigrant New Yorkers who hold green cards, working authorizations, Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals (DACA), or Temporary Protected Status (TPS), and meets all the qualifications for registering to vote, are allowed to register and vote by Jan. 9, 2023. The bill would also create an advisory group to provide recommendations regarding the implementation of this new municipal voting system chaired by the public advocate with four other appointed members. 

Organizations like Citizens Union have worked for a long time to expand voter participation in municipal elections. However, their Executive Director Betsy Gotbaum noted that the implementation of the new voting system may be “incredibly complex.”

Noncitizen voters won’t be required to form a separate line at the polls, but if there are state and federal races on the same day, voters will have a separate ballot that only includes local races. They can enroll in a political party, and will have to use separate registration forms from citizens distributed by the Board of Elections (BOE).

Gotbaum said that it was “imperative” that the BOE begin preparing for noncitizens voting now and not wait.

“The City Council should provide ample time for implementation. The incoming Adams administration and new City Council must provide adequate funding for the Board of Elections and carefully monitor the preparations to ensure that noncitizen voting is a success,” said Gotbaum.
Ariama C. Long is a Report for America corps member and writes about culture and politics in New York City for The Amsterdam News. Your donation to match our RFA grant helps keep her writing stories like this one; please consider making a tax-deductible gift of any amount today by clicking here:

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