As early voting in the Democratic primary for mayor and citywide elected offices is underway, the City may have nearly one million residents added to the electorate for future elections as NYC voters.
Community members, advocates and local officials gathered in Corona Plaza on Thursday morning to celebrate gaining a super majority of support in the City Council for the Our City, Our Vote legislation, or Introduction 1867. The bill, around since 2005 in various forms, would empower green card holders and people with work authorization as NYC voters in local elections.
“These residents of our city live here, work here, go to school here, raise their families here and pay taxes here,” said Murad Awawdeh, executive director of the New York Immigration Coalition. “We are closer than ever before in passing this ground-breaking legislation.”
Before reaching its current list of 34 co-sponsors, the bill had lagged in the council without a hearing since Councilmember Ydanis Rodriguez introduced it in January 2020.
Rodriguez, a green card holder himself for nearly two decades, said the bill is about giving respect and dignity to hundreds of thousands of New Yorkers that keep the City running, yet are left out of the democratic process.
Queens Councilmember Francisco Moya was the most recent sponsor, forcing the bill to an upcoming hearing. The group of advocates originally intended to rally in the same location to call for Moya’s support, before he signed on.
For Dolma Lama, a 24-year-old resident from Nepal, the amendment would mean empowerment for her community.
“Not having a vote is like not having a voice. And my community does not get enough representation in the decision-making process,” Lama said. “This is not just my story, this is our story.”
The Corona resident hopes that representation can help relieve a language barrier in city outreach materials and documents for the Nepali community.
Britney Espinoza, 15, is pushing for the bill’s passage to enfranchise her parents, immigrants of Mexico and Ecuador who have lived in the U.S. for 20 years.
“They’re being excluded,” she said. “My immigrant community does not have a direct access to democracy.”
Advocates hope to pass the bill by the end of the year, giving prospective NYC voters the ability to cast ballots immediately in any upcoming special elections.
Mayor Bill de Blasio has not said whether he would sign the legislation into law, but commented in a February 2021 press conference it is, “something I want to think about more,” the Daily News reported.
Most contending mayoral candidates have publicly supported the policy with the exception of Kathryn Garcia and Ray McGuire.
Neither candidate responded to multiple requests for comment from Documented.
The idea of allowing lawful permanent residents to vote is not a new one. Ten municipalities currently allow non-citizens to vote.
After the bill lagged for the entirety of the pandemic thus far, its movement comes at a time when the City’s immigrants have been lauded as essential, yet excluded, workers helping New York through the crisis.
“How can we ask these New Yorkers to literally risk their lives, to continue to risk their lives, to keep us healthy and keep the City running during the pandemic while also denying them a vote in how their taxes are spent and who represents them?” said Paul Westrick, senior manager of democracy policy at New York Immigration Coalition. “This is a fairness issue, this is about what a 21st century democracy should look like.”
The bill now awaits a currently unscheduled hearing and eventual vote in the Council.
Lama, who came to the United States as a teenager, said she never thought it would be possible to vote until obtaining citizenship. She is now optimistic, but stressed the importance of pushing the legislation through the political process, saying, “The more the bill gets pushed back, the more our voices will be disregarded.”