City Council pushes legislation allowing non-citizens to vote

Councilman Daniel Dromm at the Ecuadorian parade in August 2011. Credit: Facebook.
Councilman Daniel Dromm at the Ecuadorian parade in August 2011. Credit: Facebook

As a national debate on immigration reform heats up, the New York City Council is proposing an amendment that would grant broader immigrant voting rights, and the Bloomberg administration told Talking Points Memo they will not support it.

The legislation, co-sponsored by Councilman Daniel Dromm and Councilwoman Gale Brewer, would give legal immigrants who are residents of the city for six months or longer the right to vote in municipal elections.

It had eight supporters in the council when it was first introduced in 2010. It currently has the support of 34 of the Council’s 51 members, which is exactly the number of votes needed to override a veto from the mayor, Dromm told Metro.

The mayor has long been a vocal proponent of immigration reform, but a spokeswoman for his administration, Evelyn Erskine, told TPM: “This bill violates the state constitution and the administration does not support it.”

“The mayor believes 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,” Erskine said.

While the majority vote in the council could override a Bloomberg veto, the bill could still be stopped by Council Speaker Christine Quinn. Quinn decides when — if at all — bills come to the floor, so it’s up to her whether it comes up for a vote.

Robin Levine, a spokeswoman for Quinn, told Metro the speaker is “looking forward to reviewing testimony from today’s hearing.”

Dromm is adamant that legislation is vital for the adequate representation of the city’s immigrant communities, particularly ones like the one he represents, which he says “is 68 percent immigrant, many of whom would fall into this category.”

Giving them the right to vote would change the way politicians interact — or often neglect to interact — with them, Dromm said: “No longer could people running for city office ignore communities like mine; they’d have to come and address the issues.”

“The nation’s founders were right in saying that there should be no taxation without representation,” Dromm said. “In the early days of this country if you were a property owner, it didn’t matter what country you came from, you had the right to vote.”

He corrected himself, conceding that the law only applied to white male property owners, but noted that over the course of history, that law was expanded to include women and African-Americans. Including immigrants, he believes, is simply the next logical step.

Dromm also notes that the state constitution actually says that municipalities and localities are able to determine who can vote in their elections, and that from 1968 to 2001, anybody, even undocumented immigrants, could vote in school board elections — a rule which was approved by the state legislature in 1968. 

He dismissed concerns that giving immigrants voting rights will deter them from applying for full citizenship and taking on all the responsibilities that come with that status.

“These are people who desperately want to participate in the American system,” Dromm said. “Sometimes it takes 13 years, even when you have a good lawyer and you’re on the path to citizenship and even after you’ve received a green card.”

Councilman Jumaane Williams, another one of the bill’s supporters, agreed after Thursday’s hearing, and noted the potential this legislation has to affect the national conversation on immigration reform.

“These individuals are contributing and taxpaying members of our communities,” Williams said. “I am a proud child of immigrant parents and I represent a proud immigrant community.”

“We look forward to the restoration of immigrant voting rights and the positive effects this will have on the nationwide conversation,” he added.

Follow Danielle Tcholakian on Twitter @danielleiat


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