As a community organizer for a City Council candidate in Queens, Dolma Lama handed out hundreds of flyers, knocked on dozens of doors, and helped host a string of events in her neighborhood to get out the vote ahead of last month’s municipal elections.
But unlike most of her neighbors, Lama was not able to vote herself in the Nov. 3 elections because she’s not an American citizen.
“It just strikes me as bad, and honestly sad,” said Lama, 24, who was brought to the U.S. by her parents as a teenager from Nepal and has since become a permanent resident. “I went to high school here, I went to college here, I pay my taxes, and I work as a full-time community organizer, but I’m not able to vote. That needs to be changed.”
This week, the City Council is poised to enact that change.
The Council is set to approve a bill Thursday that would let Lama and roughly 800,000 other immigrant New Yorkers vote in local elections, making the Big Apple the largest jurisdiction in the country to extend the right to noncitizens.
The bill, which was written by Councilman Ydanis Rodriguez (D-Manhattan) and has long been a priority for immigration advocates, is expected to easily pass, as a supermajority of the overwhelmingly Democratic chamber’s members are already signed up as co-sponsors.
Dubbed as “Intro 1867 , the measure would allow noncitizen permanent residents — a majority of whom are green card holders — and some work visa recipients to register with a political party and vote for mayor, Council, comptroller and other municipal government offices. A person must have been a lawful resident for at least 30 days to vote, and the right would not be extended to elections for president, governor, Congress or other state and federal offices.
Though it’s expected to breeze through the Council, the bill has prompted pushback from the chamber’s vocal Republican minority, whose members contend it would be illegal to let noncitizens vote and that it would dilute the importance of citizenship.
The Republicans say they will file a lawsuit to block the bill if it passes, pointing to a section of the state Constitution holding that “every citizen” is entitled to the right to vote.
“If they want to vote here, they should go through the process of becoming citizens because that is how you show a real commitment to being a part of this city and this country,” said Staten Island Councilman Joe Borelli, the Republican minority leader. “The stakes are too high, the problems we face in this city are too big, for us to give away the most quintessential right of American citizenship to someone who has only lived here for 30 days.”
Rodriguez, who’s originally from the Dominican Republic and could not vote until he became a citizen in 2000, waved off Borelli’s claims and said Council lawyers thoroughly vetted the bill before it was introduced.
“This is the same group of people who have been Donald Trump supporters, who have never been on the side of immigrants. They’re the same people who would be fine with legislation in the South that is reducing voting rights,” Rodriguez said of his GOP colleagues. “This bill will pass, and instead of diluting anything it will strengthen our democracy.”
The Big Apple won’t be first in the U.S. to allow noncitizen voting — 11 towns in Maryland alone permit it — but it will by far become the largest city holding the distinction.
It comes after Republican-led legislatures in some states, including Florida, passed bills last year prohibiting the enactment of any law allowing noncitizen voting.
Though support for Rodriguez’s bill is nearly universal among local Democrats, some have expressed concern it could run into legal trouble due to the constitutional question raised by Republicans.
Mayor de Blasio, who leaves office on Jan. 1, is among those skeptics, though he has said he will sign off on the bill regardless.
“Certainly not something I’d be intending to veto, but it’s also not something I’m sure is the right way to go about this,” de Blasio said on NY1. Hizzoner added that he preferred that the state legislature amend the constitution to allow noncitizen voting.
Lama, who’s in the process of applying for U.S. citizenship, said there’s no sense in waiting around for a constitutional amendment — which could take years.
“We have been waiting long enough,” said Lama. “Me and other people like me deserve it. We will finally get a voice.”
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