Rallying behind a plea of "No Taxation Without Representation" a
group New Yorkers gathered in front of the main post office on Tax Day
to push for what they see as the latest voting rights movement in this
nation - the right of non-citizens to vote.
"I truly believe that if people are paying taxes they should be
allowed to vote," Candy Mojica, a Harlem resident and graduate student
at the Hunter College School of Social Work, said at the rally.
New York City Councilmember Bill Perkins agrees. That is why he is the
prime sponsor of Intro 628, introduced in the City Council on April
20th, which would allow legal non-citizens, with six months or longer of
New York City residency, to vote in all municipal elections, including
the one for mayor.
The Vocal Proponents
Advocates of the proposal argue that the estimated 1.3 million
immigrants living in New York City, close to 20 percent of the
population, deserve to be represented locally in government if they are
expected to pay taxes and live with the decisions of elected officials.
This population is larger than the entire borough of the Bronx and 11 of
the states in the U.S. It is estimated that non-citizen immigrants pay
$18.2 billion in New York State taxes alone, yet they have no
representation in government.
"The greatest movements we've had in this country have been to
remove arbitrary barriers to voting, whether the civil rights movement,
the suffragettes, or the move to allow 18-year-olds to vote," Perkins
says. Allowing non-citizens to vote, he says, is just another extension
Under the bill the city would also be required to issue new
municipal voter registration forms in an expanded array of languages
(Spanish, Traditional and Simplified Chinese, Korean, Bangla, Arabic,
Russian, Haitian Creole, French and Urdu).
The Silent Opposition
While there is not a highly visible movement of those protesting efforts
to expand suffrage to non-citizens, it is clear that many New Yorkers
object. A passerby at the April 15th rally, for example, said "it is
reasonable for people to be citizens in order to vote. There is
something to be said for the commitment you make to your country."
"Voting is an awesome and essential piece of citizenship" argues
Stanley Renshon, professor of political science at the City of New York
Graduate Center; it should not be given away to those who are not
integrated into the community and the country. "It is the badge of
inclusion." If legal residents could vote without being citizens, there
would be less incentive to apply for citizenship, and this would "weaken
the bonds that tie us together as Americans."
To become a naturalized U.S. citizen, a person has to be a permanent
and legal resident for at least five years and they must be able to
speak, read, and write in English. In addition, they must also
demonstrate an understanding of U.S. history and government. This
knowledge of the political system, the shared culture and history of
America and a sense of belonging to their communities, opponents argue,
is key to extending the right to vote to individuals. Permanent and
legal status and passage of the citizenship test ensures that people at
least reach a minimal threshold in these areas.
"The premise of voting is that the voter be informed and acclimated
to our political culture," Renshon said. " It takes time to develop this
Part of Larger Movement
Non-citizen voting laws have been passed on the municipal level in
Amherst, Newton and Cambridge, Massachusetts. However, as state law
currently prohibits non-citizens from voting in local elections, bills
have been introduced into the Massachusetts legislature to change this
Already a number of municipalities in Maryland allow non-citizen voting
in local elections, including Takoma Park, Barnesville, Martin's
Additions, Somerset and Chevy Chase. In Chicago non-citizens can vote in school-board elections if they have a child in the public school system. Indeed, this was true in New York City too, until school boards were dismantled here in 2002.
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