Immigrant Voting:
Lessons from Narrow Defeats in 2010 and Next
Voting is for citizens only, right?
Not exactly. It is not widely known
that immigrants, or noncitizens,
currently vote in local elections in
over a half dozen cities and towns
in the U.S.; nor that campaigns to
expand the franchise to
noncitizens have been launched
in at least a dozen other
jurisdictions from coast to coast
over the past decade.
Voting is about who shall have a say
For every disempowered group in America's history, voting rights
have been a vital tool for acquiring economic, social and civil rights
and for expanding democracy. For African-Americans, women,
and young men who were expected to go to war at 18 but were not
yet allowed to vote, breaking down legal barriers to voting was a
crucial point in the struggle for equality.
Voting is about who shall have a say
They were denied voting rights on the
basis of sex and race – not citizenship
Voting not inextricably linked to
citizenship; Not naturally connected
Voting is about who can select
representatives; who controls
Voting is mechanism to determine
whose interests prevail — about
political power
For most of this country's
history-from the 1770s to the
1920s-forty states and federal
territories permitted non-citizen
residents to vote in local, state
and federal elections, and to
hold public offices such as
alderman, coroner and school
board member.
Local voting affirms the
hallowed principle of the
American Revolution: "no
taxation without
Three points to consider in thinking
It’s legal. The Constitution does not
preclude it and the courts have upheld
voting by noncitizens. Moreover,
noncitizens enjoyed voting rights for
most of U.S. history.
It’s rational. Moral and practical
reasons to restore IVR, including
notions of equal rights and treatment;
and democracy principals
It’s feasible. Noncitizen voting is
making a comeback today.
Some campaigns would
provide voting rights only to
the documented, while other
campaigns would extend
voting rights to all
noncitizens regardless of
status. Some measures
have been passed by a
majority of the voters in a
jurisdiction (ballot proposal)
while other measures have
been passed by elected
representatives as local
In 2010, for example, two cities held referendums on this question in
Nov.: voters in San Francisco defeated a ballot proposal (Proposition D) by
a margin of 54% to 46% that proposed to grants all parents and
guardians of children in the public school system voting rights in school
board elections, regardless of the status of the parent or guardians; and
voters in Portland Maine, defeated also a ballot proposal by a margin
of 53% to 47%, which would have granted voting rights in all municipal
elections to legal residents. That same month, Brookline
Massachusetts passed a local law allowing legal permanent residents
the right to vote in local elections and New York City legislation was
introduced into the City Council that would enfranchise all legal
Reinstate Voting Rights for all New Yorkers
Until 1804, New York State
allowed noncitizen
immigrants to vote in
federal, state and local
Before Mayor Bloomberg’s
re-centralization of the
school system in 2003,
noncitizen parents could
vote in School Board
elections, giving them a
voice in the education
A Local Law to
amend the New
York City charter, in
relation to allowing
lawfully present
immigrants in New
York City to vote in
all New York City
municipal elections
The intro. 410 call "Voting by
Noncitizen Residents" was
introduced into the NYC Council on
November 18, 2010.
The main sponsor is Daniel Dromm
(D-25), who is the Chair of the NYC
Council Immigration Committee and
at least a dozen other co-sponsors
have already signed on, including
Gale Brewer who heads the NYC
Council Government Operations
Committee, which has authority over
election related legislation.
Expand Democracy:
Reinstate Voting Rights for all New Yorkers
New York City is now
home to 1,361,007
immigrants of voting
age who are not yet
That means that 1 out
of every 5 New
Yorkers of voting age
can’t vote.
Neighborhood Concentrations of Noncitizens
Immigrants tend to be concentrated in
certain neighborhoods
They live near, but not always among,
native born people from similar racial or
ethnic backgrounds
Asian and Hispanic immigrants tend to be
in between white and black neighborhoods
Native voters in immigrant districts have
more electoral impact than native voters
Not only do noncitizen
residents pay billions in
state income taxes, we are
responsible for $229 billion
in economic output in New
York State: that's over
one-fifth of the state's total
GDP. We live here, we
send our children to school
here, we contribute to
every aspect of the
economic, cultural and
social life of this city, yet
we cannot vote in
decisions that affect our
daily lives.
Unrepresented immigrants are some of the
communities most affected by the lack of
affordable housing:
Immigrants make up two-thirds of the lowwage workers in New York.
Immigrants are less likely than other New
Yorkers to live in publicly-subsidized
affordable housing, and pay a higher portion
of their income for rent.
Landlords often withhold basic services from
immigrants, especially those who feel they
cannot complain because of their legal status
or language barriers. As a result, tenants are
often displaced, allowing gentrification to
Expanding the franchise is a
rational and practical way to unite
all members of our society toward
a common goal of making New
York City a better place. It
acknowledges people’s
membership in their communities
and gives them a way to be
actively engaged in improving their
neighborhood. Far from being a
substitute for citizenship, allowing
noncitizen New Yorkers to vote is
the best way to promote civic
education and participation.
Legal Resident from:
Ecuador can vote in Madrid
Mexico can vote in
Bolivia can vote in Brussels
Dominican Republic can
vote in Stockholm
Pakistan can vote in
Nigeria can vote in Dublin
But none of them can vote
in New York City
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