Let immigrants vote in NYC

Today is primary day and barring some freak of nature, we are likely to lament unimpressive voter turnouts.

There are a host of reasons why New Yorkers don’t rock the vote in the way that we could. But let’s be real: Our society talks a lot about democracy but also puts a bunch of restrictions-many politically motivated or with discriminatory roots-on who can vote.

Take this chapter in U.S. history: Noncitizen voting in local, state and even federal elections took place from the 18th century to the early 1900’s. That period included New York.

So what changed? States began stripping voting rights as an anti-immigrant wave surged in reaction to certain groups and classes of people, many of who were Eastern Europeans arriving around the turn of the 20th century. States pulled rights yet continued to pocket any revenue generated by immigrants.

A bill introduced in the New York City Council in 2006 would have restored the right to vote in municipal elections to lawfully present residents. The legislation back then described how immigrants in our city paid 15.5% of the state’s income tax or $18.2 billion in taxes annually and how local voting affirms the U.S. principle of “no taxation, without representation.”

Beyond this core American principle, immigrants should be able to elect, or reject, representatives of the communities they sustain. This leaves no corner of New York unmarked.

The effort to re-empower immigrants to vote is not rare. Noncitizens vote in seven U.S. jurisdictions and more than 12 cities have considered bills that would allow their participation in local elections, according to the Immigrant Voting Project.

The Council “filed” its bill in 2009. We say it’s time to open up that drawer and re-introduce a proposal that makes civic sense for our city. We strongly urge the Council to show leadership, in time for the next mayoral race.