Opinion

NYC Progressives Preparing To Let Non-Citizens Vote

Seth Barron Blogger, City Council Watch

Radicals on the New York City Council are getting ready to re-introduce legislation that will allow anyone who has been in the city for more than a few weeks to vote in local elections. But the reality of the city’s clunky and confusing electoral process means that illegal immigrants, tourists and foreign students will likely be able to cast ballots for all elections — including for president.

Non-citizen voting has long been a priority for the “progressive” wing of the city council. They last introduced legislation on the issue in 2013, before the ascendency of Bill de Blasio and his handmaid, Council Speaker Melissa Mark-Viverito. That bill, Intro 410, failed to make progress under the Bloomberg administration, but given the city’s current inclusive atmosphere of immigrant empowerment, there is every likelihood that the new legislation will move forward. The bill’s primary sponsor, Councilmember Daniel Dromm, explains, “The demographics of voters have changed over time, and this bill would just be the natural step in our nation’s voting history.”

Council Progressives laid the ground for non-citizen voting last year when they introduced “Municipal ID cards.” These government-issued photo identification cards are available to any “resident” of the city, and ostensibly were meant to help the many New Yorkers who supposedly lacked official forms of identification. These hapless folks included the elderly, transgender people, non-drivers, and … recent immigrants. Since the cards became available, city offices have been flooded with applications, and the vast majority of the applicants have been illegal immigrants eager to possess a valid, official government ID.

Proponents of the Muni ID card such as Councilmember Carlos Menchaca never said a word about voting, stressing instead that the cards could be used for “opening a bank account, accessing healthcare or entering government buildings, like public schools.” But given the stalled legislation around non-citizen voting, it was never in doubt that the cards were preparing the ground to eliminate a potential barrier to letting almost anyone vote.

Advocates of non-citizen voting point to the success of such programs in other municipalities around the country. They reference the experience of six jurisdictions in Maryland as proof that non-citizen voting is easy to administer, neglecting to point out that these towns are tiny suburban enclaves with nothing in common with a major metropolis: Barnesville, Maryland, for instance, has 176 people, roughly the population of one NYC subway car during rush hour.

The original bill to allow non-citizens to vote contained ostensible restrictions, but placed the burden of enforcement on the individual. People without legal status are technically disqualified from voting, for example, but now that anyone drawing breath within the five boroughs can get a valid ID card, the definition of “legal status” has been made intentionally blurry. Non-citizens are supposed to vote only in municipal elections, but the legislation specifically disallowed setting up different polling sites, lists, or lines for citizen and non-citizen voters, in order to eliminate any stigma or other harm accruing to citizenship status.

Anyone who has ever voted in an election in New York understands how absurd these restrictions would be to implement in practice. New York City polling sites are crowded, chaotic school cafeterias staffed usually by elderly volunteers who work 16-hour days for $200. Non-citizen voting legislation that allows a non-citizen to vote for borough president (a municipal post), while disqualifying that same voter from voting for district attorney (a state post), on the same ballot, in the same electoral cycle, is designed to fail. Obviously, once the door is opened, voters will be able to vote for whomever they want to.  The advocates want to overwhelm the system and erase the thin boundaries that still exist between citizens and non-citizens in America.

Mayor de Blasio has previously opposed the extension of the franchise to non-citizens, though he has not spoken on it recently. It may not matter, however, because the previous iteration of the legislation, under an unfriendly speaker and mayor, was nearly veto-proof with 31 sponsors. (35 votes can override a mayoral veto.) Assuming that the Progressives get their way, New York could soon become not just a city where immigrants come to get a foothold on the American Dream, but the place they come to achieve instant participation in the electoral system as well.