Legal Immigrants to Vote Tuesday in ‘Mock Election’

Non-citizens will be able to vote at a mock election in Jackson Heights. Voting will run from 7 a.m. to 9 a.m., as in regular polling places. (Photo by Willis Arnold/Voices of NY)

Non-citizens will be able to vote at Diversity Plaza in Jackson Heights, Queens. Voting will run from 7 a.m. to 9 p.m., as in regular polling places. (Photo by Willis Arnold/Voices of NY)

In Jackson Heights on Election Day, non-naturalized immigrants will get a taste of what it’s like to vote, by marking ballots in a “mock election.”  The event is designed to raise awareness that almost 1 million legal residents in New York City are ineligible to vote because they are not citizens.

Inspired by a recent mock election for foreigners living in Berlin, Germany, this is the first such mock election in the United States, said Kevin Douglas, an organizer of the election. At Diversity Plaza in Jackson Heights, non-citizens will be able to cast their votes into ballot boxes using sample ballots from the Board of Elections. Jackson Heights was chosen because 55% of its residents are ineligible to vote.

This mock election underscores a bill before the City Council that would allow legal, documented residents who have lived in the city for at least six months, including those here on student or work visas, to vote in city, but not state or federal, elections. Of a total of 1.4 million non-citizens living in New York City, an estimated 900,000 are legal residents of voting age.

“Voting is a hallmark of what it means to live in the United States and be part of a democracy,” said Douglas, policy advisor at United Neighborhood Houses, a community-based organization.

The bill, called the NYC Voting Rights Restoration Act of 2010, is sponsored by Councilman Daniel Dromm (D-Jackson Heights, Elmhurst) and has 33 other councilmembers behind it, making it one vote shy of a veto-proof majority. However, the bill has been languishing in the Committee on Governmental Operations, where it has received little support. Sponsors of the bill are hoping that the new batch of City Council members in the committee come January 2014 will push it through.

The measure is not popular with either Bill de Blasio or Joe Lhota, the leading mayoral candidates. At a recent debate, Lhota said he opposed non-citizen voting, while de Blasio said he did not feel comfortable with the current bill.

“I’ve talked to the advocates on that issue,” de Blasio during the October 29 mayoral debate. “They’ve presented their plan to me. I’m not comfortable with it at this point. It’s I think an idea that is founded in good intent but there’s a number of specifics that I can’t agree with, as least as it’s written now.”

The mock election, which will run from 7 a.m. to 9 p.m. on November 5 just like regular polls, was organized by the New York Coalition to Expand Voting Rights, a coalition of 60 voting rights groups. Dromm, the chairman of the City Council Committee on Immigration, will give a press conference at the election site on 74th Street and 37th Road at 11 a.m.

Organizers hope the mock election will showcase the frustrations felt by legal non-citizens across New York City, including the many people in Jackson Heights from Colombia, Mexico, Bangladesh, India, Ecuador, Peru, Pakistan and more.

“They want to be counted and they want to have a voice,” said Douglas.

Proponents of the bill argue that non-citizens pay $18.2 billion in income tax each year and they’re experiencing “taxation without representation.” Douglas said that the United States in fact has a long history of immigrant voting.

“People often say that voting is a privilege of citizenship,” said Douglas. “But historically, there hasn’t been a requirement that voting is tied to citizenship.”

Immigrants voted in all elections for the first 150 years of U.S. history, and there is nothing in the U.S or New York State Constitution that prevents changing the law. Non-citizens could vote and run in school board elections in New York City until 2003 when they were eliminated. Additionally, in 45 countries around the world and six cities in Maryland, non-citizens can vote.

“Immigrants really are part of the community, and they’re creating jobs,” said Douglas. “They keep the city running and the city couldn’t thrive without them.”


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