For long-time residents of the US who have difficulty acquiring citizenship, elections can be a painful reminder of the difficult road to fully establishing oneself in the US. In an unprecedented move to support those seeking citizenship, New York City has approved a bill that would let noncitizens vote in local elections.
Under the new law, which is expected to be signed by Mayor Bill de Blasio soon, legally documented, voting-age noncitizens will be allowed to cast ballots in elections to choose the mayor, city council members, and municipal officeholders starting in 2023. This new law will apply to some 800,000 noncitizens currently living in the city.
A long-standing refuge and beacon for immigrants, New York City’s new law gives a voice to those who have made New York their home, but are not yet legally recognized by the federal government. Although some have argued that the bill goes against the state’s principles of citizenship, for noncitizens who live, work, pay taxes, and volunteer in New York City, the law is an opportunity to finally have a say in municipal matters.
The new law will apply to people like “Dreamers,” those who came to the US with parents at a young age and have lived in the country their entire lives, but are not considered citizens. One Dreamer, Eva Santos, is a community organizer in New York and told NBC, “It was really hard for me to see how my other friends were able to make decisions for their future, and I couldn’t.”
Many smaller cities and towns have already enacted similar legislation. Eleven towns in Maryland and two in Vermont allow noncitizens to vote in local elections. Additionally, San Francisco allows noncitizens to vote in school board elections. Federal law does allow local governments to decide who can vote in their elections, so the law cannot technically be challenged by the federal government.