The midterm elections are coming up later this year, and here at Bushwick Daily, we’re posting op-eds on politics and how national and even international issues can affect so many local residents.
Today’s piece comes from Boris Santos, a staffer for Council Member Antonio Reynoso in Bushwick:
About a third of Bushwick residents today are foreign born. If you happen to find yourself campaigning for elected office in Bushwick, you would not intentionally be reaching out to this population simply because they are likely to be non-voters. Voter Access Networks, which are largely used by campaigns to access and track voter data, will not be alerting candidates about this demographic because they have no prior voting record. What is most tragic about this is the fact that this population is not voting – not – because they do not want to, but because they are barred from doing so.
New York City today, like most big cities, does not grant non-citizens the right to vote.
In 2001, a coalition comprised of “immigrant-rights organizations, groups promoting broader democratic participation, and representatives from universities, unions, service non-profits, and small political parties” formed to advocate for non-citizen voting in NYC elections. The group dubbed themselves the NYC Coalition to Expand Voting Rights. In 2005, the Coalition was able to write and introduce legislation in NYC Council.
Although the legislation was able to eventually gain the sign-on of 31 Council Members and garnered a public hearing, it eventually died before the end of the 2013 legislative session. The legislation would have granted 1.3 million non-citizens across the city the right to vote.
At a time when we are facing discriminatory policies towards our immigrant families from the White House, our city must serve as a safe haven and guarantor of basic civic and human rights for our non-citizens.
In 2015, the NYU Furman Center reported that the North Bushwick population consists of 34.6% non-citizens. This almost mimics the foreign-born population of the entire city (37.5%) today. As Bushwick residents, most of us understand that countless of our non-citizens think twice about standing up against landlords that are trying to harass them out of their homes (an all too common experience in the area). For this particular population, fear sometimes prevents them from engaging with any government agency or entity that is put in place to enforce regular quality-of-life issues. It is clear that the non-citizen population today is vulnerable and voter enfranchisement could do much to empower a group that has frequently been overlooked (this is so now more than ever, at least at the federal level).
Pushing for non-citizen voting is particularly crucial at this point in history as both the Mayor and City Council have separately formed Commissions to help revise the City Charter, the set of laws that defines the functions, organization, powers, and obligations of the municipal government. These Commissions could very well lead the city into cementing non-citizen voting within the Charter. It’s important to pause and acknowledge that this is not a ludicrous idea.
Before mayoral control of schools in 2002, NYC allowed non-citizen voting in local school board elections. Right now, the County of College Park, Maryland, the cities of Hyattsville and Mount Rainier in Prince Georges County, Maryland, and certain towns in Massachusetts allow non-citizens to vote in municipal elections. Boston is currently considering it and they have a foreign-born population of 28.5%.
Enfranchising a populace that actually contributes to our tax economy is the morally and civically sound policy to pursue. Bushwick’s very own, locally based non-profit, Make the Road NYC, understood this over a decade ago when they first decided to join and play a crucial role within the NYC Coalition to Expand Voting Rights.
Former Assembly Member Vito Lopez also knew better as he helped to introduce legislation in the Assembly in 1997 to enfranchise non-citizens that had spent at least 5 years residing in the City. Bushwick’s demographics are quickly changing due to gentrification and the “been here less than 10-years” voter is emerging. We must include the long-term immigrant Bushwick residents into the electoral equation as well. It is time that in the 21st Century we fiercely voice opposition to all forms of taxation without representation.
It is time to grant non-citizens the right to vote.
Cover photo courtesy of Elliott Stallion