When we talk to folks in our neighborhoods, we encounter people of all walks of life who agree with our message. They agree that there needs to be a radical change in who holds power in New York City. But a lot of these same people do not even have the right to vote.
It’s an open secret that American democracy has its limitations for many Americans. Where you are born or if you were convicted of a crime impacts your ability to exercise your most basic right: voting. In New York, it was only in May of this year that all formerly incarcerated people automatically received the right to vote if on parole.
September 17th is “Constitution and Citizenship Day”, which the U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services claims to be a day to “reflect on the rights and responsibilities of citizenship and what it means to be a U.S. citizen.” We condemn the divisions between citizens and “noncitizens” that bar access to basic protections and much needed resources, all because of a piece of paper. New York City has tens of thousands immigrants who are not citizens, including the documented and undocumented. None of these immigrants, who take care of our children, deliver our food, clean our buildings and pay our taxes, have the right to vote.
For at least some, this could soon change. While the debate continues on the Senate floor regarding voting rights, there is a popular movement pushing to increase our enfranchisement. The New York City Council bill called “Our City Our Vote” was introduced before the pandemic but has recently picked up steam with a scheduled committee hearing later this month. This bill would allow legal permanent residents and those with work authorization papers to vote in local elections. If passed, this bill will add almost one million voters to the NYC voter rolls, the largest influx of voters in this country since the 26th Amendment lowered the voting age to 18.
In the context of New York City, with an archaic and corrupt elections board that is notorious for purging voters and miscounting ballots, there is a fair amount of concern over how this bill should be implemented. The Board of Elections is the government body that would be in charge of these new 900,000 votes.
There’s also the concern of what happens when databases get into the wrong hands. Even though NYC is a sanctuary city, there’s documentation of ICE using NYPD fingerprint database information to find and deport undocumented people. Sometimes status changes or authorizations expire and it could put potential voters at risk. All rights to privacy and information protection must be upheld for anyone on voter rolls.
We believe this is an important step in shifting the power balance from the establishment, which maintains the status quo, to the people. Political life extends far beyond voting, but the importance of voting rights is clear when we examine the tide of attacks on voting across the country. We also have to shut down crass racist remarks by local elected officials who are against noncitizen voting, such as Queens Council member Robert Holden’s remark that allowing noncitizens to vote would be “inviting foreign influence.”
Cathy Rojas supports this necessary and important reform. This new bill would allow voting in municipal elections, and would allow green card holders, DACA recipients, and TPS recipients to vote. Undocumented immigrants, who make the city run in industries such as food delivery, construction, and street vending, would still be excluded. We demand voting rights for all workers in our city, nothing less! Reform the corrupt Board of Elections! Empower workers with true universal suffrage so that we can choose leaders that truly represent us, not more of the status quo!