Immigrant Voting Rights in New York City: What does our Democracy look like?

March 25, 2011–New York City: At the New School’s Eugene Lang College on Wednesday, March 23, the NY Coalition to Expand Voting Rights held a free public forum on non-citizen voting rights and a discussion about Intro. 410, legislation recently introduced in the City Council that would restore municipal voting rights for legally residing non-citizens in New York City.

A panel discussion and public dialogue about the history of immigrant voting rights and the state of our democracy in New York City, the event had panelists discussing the implications of bringing the newest New Yorkers into the local decision making process.

Speakers included City Council Member Daniel Dromm, Chair of the Immigration Committee; filmmaker and human rights activist Brendan Fay; leaders from the New York State Youth Leadership Council, the Ecuadorian International Center, Queens Community House, the Humanist Party, and Andolan Organizing South Asian Workers; and Prof. Ron Hayduk, author of “Democracy for All: Restoring Immigrant Voting Rights in the U.S.”

Hayduk began the evening with a historical grounding in the issue: “The legality of non-citizen’s voting is a long, well-worn path. The US Constitution doesn’t preclude it, New York State’s constitution does not preclude it, and the Supreme Court has ruled that it’s totally legal.” And given the fact that non-citizens voted for the first 150 years of US history, he explained, “it’s as American as apple pie and baseball.

I’m very, very pleased to tell you that we have more co-sponsors on this bill than ever before,” announced Dromm (D-25), the main sponsor of the legislation in the City Council. Nearly one half of the City Council has signed on to Intro. 410. Dromm urged the audience to bring others on board.

Veronica Piedra, Co-Executive Director of the Ecuadorian International Center, which offers English and citizenship classes for new immigrants to the US, explained to the audience how critical civic education is to bringing more residents into the political process and what barriers still stand in the way to political engagement for many of the newest New Yorkers: “It is our commitment to educate each person that walks through our doors so that they know how they can become politically active and that their voice counts.” Urging unity in the movement for expanding democracy, she declared, “We have to become one group.

Brendan Fay urged, “You are taking the American Dream and expanding it and sharing it“. You are saying, “There is more pie to share around than we think. There is more a gift of the American Dream to pass around“. “Democracy is a gift. It is not something to be afraid of.