This Will Be The Next Big Change To Push In Local Voting Laws By Betsy Newmark

There is a renewed push in New York City to give non-citizen immigrants the right to vote in local elections.

A bill that would grant permanent residents and other legal immigrants the right to vote in municipal elections has been stalled in the City Council since last year.

“More than 50,000 adult noncitizen taxpayers in those two districts are disenfranchised by citizenship voting laws,” said Cheryl Wertz, of New Immigrant Community Empowerment, referring to today’s special election for council seats in Brooklyn and Staten Island.

Councilman Charles Barron (D-Brooklyn), the sponsor of the Voting Rights Restoration Act, said that years ago, when immigrants were mostly European, they had voting rights.

“Then when the complexion of immigrants changes, then all of a sudden, the laws change,” he said.

Ron Hayduk, a CUNY professor, concurred, saying immigrants voted in national elections from 1776 through 1926.

When the voting rights were taken away in 1926 for immigrants to New York, that probably wasn’t because of the complexion of immigrants. First of all, the 1920s were marked by extreme nativism. It was an era when the national government passed three separate laws to limit immigration. The goal however, was not to limit immigrants of a different complexion, but to limit the influx of immigrants from eastern and southern Europe rather than those from northern and western Europe who had dominated the immigration flow prior to around 1890. Those laws didn’t even restrict immigration from the western hemisphere and this certainly wasn’t an era when we were seeing a lot of African immigrants. So the idea that the restrictions on non-citizens voting placed in 1926 were part of some effort to limit the rights of black or brown immigrants is just plain wrong.

And I would point out that the 15th Amendment concerns not denying the right to vote to any citizen of the United States on acount of “race, color, or previous condition of servitude.” Note the word “citizen” in that amendment. So, non-citizens have not had the right to vote in national elections at least since 1870.

If New York City wants to grant the right to vote to non-citizens in their local elections, that is their prerogative, but I wonder how the citizens who vote now in the city like the idea of their votes being diluted by non-citizens. I can imagine that sparking a rather heated debate.

This content was used with the permission of Betsy’s Page.

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