SOTO: NonCitizen/Resident Voting

The issue of noncitizen voting has been in the news in recent days and has become an issue in the NY-11 congressional race in Staten Island/Brooklyn. To better educate our readers, The Bronx Chronicle invited attorneys and CUNY professors J.C. Polanco and Hector Soto to debate the issue.

 Giving Equal Voice To All Impacted By Local Government

by Hector Soto, Esq.

Allowing permanent resident (i.e., noncitizen) voting should be embraced rather than shunned. While there may be legal challenges that will have to be considered and overcome, nothing could be more important and valuable for our society, than making it easier for new New Yorkers to become part of our democracy at the most significant and impactful level – municipal elections.

And who are these people that will be joining us at the polls if resident voting were to become reality in NYC?  They are the people who pay the fare and ride the subways with us; they are the people with whom we stand in line at the bakery or the supermarket; they are the people who send their children to local schools and become members of the school’s Parent Association. They suffer the ups and downs of NYC life, share our dreams and pay taxes to support government and the services it provides.  They are our neighbors, our friends and our families.  By giving them permanent legal residence status, the federal government has approved of their joining our society and participating in our democracy.

The right to vote is a sacred right.  Allowing NYC permanent residents to vote in local elections will make the right to vote more meaningful as well as enhance the quality of our democracy.  Our democracy will be made stronger and more credible in the same way that America grew stronger after the elimination of property requirements (for white men as they were the only group eligible to vote) in 1850,  by the  passage of the 15th Amendment in 1870, which guaranteed the voting rights of former slaves and their descendants, the 19th Amendment in 1920  granting US women the right to vote, the 24th Amendment granting the voting rights of Native Americans, the passage of  the Voting Rights Act in 1965 that removed artificial barriers to voting, including English language qualifications here in NYC, and the 26th Amendment lowering the voting age to 18 in 1971.

Expanding the right to vote and making our democracy more inclusive is our legacy as well our destiny.

Resident voting is about giving a greater voice to those in our city and its local neighborhoods who are impacted by the policy decisions of the City Council, the Mayor and/or the Public Advocate but, have no say in the election of these individuals notwithstanding that they are significant segment, if not the majority, of the voting population of the city or a local district.

Finally, voting in local elections is not, nor has it ever been a question of US citizenship.  Your right to vote in local elections is a function of eligibility pursuant to the state and local requirements, the primary of which has been, and continues to be residency.  So, if you are a US citizen and you change your residency from Yonkers to the Bronx within 30 days before a NYC election, you would still not be able to vote.  Not because you’re not a US citizen, but because you have not met the eligibility requirements for residency and voting in NYC.  Permanent resident voting will work the same way.

Resident voting will be a boon for NYC generally, and particularly for those men and women who get to exercise the franchise for the first time.  In the future, the voting record of these new voters could become the single most important objective demonstration of their commitment and readiness to become US citizens and fulfill their responsibilities as voters in state and national elections.

Hector Soto, Esq., is a civil rights attorney, advocate and college professor of law and criminal justice.


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