Friday, April 29, 2005

A Push for Voting Rights, Right off the Boat

Columbia Spectator

A Push for Voting Rights, Right off the Boat
By Amanda Erickson
Spectator Staff Writer

April 29, 2005

Felipe Tarud, CC ’08, came to Columbia to study political science. But in New York City, he can only watch the government from the sidelines.

Though he lives here during most of the year, Tarud is not a citizen of the United States and currently has no say in who represents him in government. “I study politics, but politics is about everyone,” said Tarud, a native of Colombia. “I think it’s really important for everyone to be heard and to be considered ... that’s the point of democracy isn’t it?”

It is for city council member Bill Perkins (D–Harlem), who is currently sponsoring legislation that will allow any person who has been in the country for more than six months to vote in New York City municipal elections.

“Many non-citizens are legal taxpaying residents in our city,” Perkins said. “They should have the opportunity to participate in the process of making decisions about the community and about the city.”

According to Perkins, non-citizen voting has a long history on the very local level. “You got off the boat, you could vote,” he said. It’s an “idea that’s as basic as no taxation without representation.” Non-citizens were able to vote in school board elections until 2003, when school boards were abolished in New York City.

But before Perkins’ legislation is approved, it faces serious scrutiny from voting experts, community leaders, and, maybe most importantly, lawyers.

According to Robert Shapiro, a political science professor at Columbia, allowing non-citizens the right to vote may endanger the meaning of citizenship. “It’s not consistent with the idea of rights and responsibilities,” he said. “Legal immigrants ... should become citizens so they can vote.”

Still, he acknowledged that there is a place for non-citizens in the democratic process. Shapiro advocated allowing immigrants to vote in very local elections, such as those for school boards. “Once they get involved, there is incentive to do more,” he said.

But Perkins argues that non-citizens do have responsibilities, noting that they participate in city life in very important ways. “When April 15 comes, [non-citizens] are under just as much pressure to get their taxes in,” he said. “We don’t have a draft, but we do know non-citizens are dying in Iraq and participating responsibly in the war.”

Not everyone agrees that this is enough of a reason to give non-citizens voting rights. “Citizenship is a privilege that many people have worked very hard to earn ... It should not just be given away to people” said Community Board 9 Chair Jordi Reyes-Montblanc. “I’m glad they pay taxes, but they have no voice in this government.”

Others suggest that the motives behind the bill are partisan. “You don’t see Republicans doing that kind of thing,” Shapiro said.

But Perkins denies this. Calling the accusation “cynical,” Perkins said that his legislation is for the good of the people, regardless of their party affiliation. “Partisan bias is irrelevant of the fundamental issue.”

Bill Perkins is not the only legislator to take on this issue. In Albany, Assemblyman Adriano Espaillat (D–Inwood) is also co-sponsoring a bill that would allow non-citizens to vote in municipal elections.

“These [non-citizens] are people who are living in the city, who are here legally, who are paying taxes, and who have their own businesses,” Joel Barkin, Espaillat’s spokesperson, said. “They should have a say in who their local representation is.”

Espaillat’s bill is still in committee and has not yet been considered by the Assembly at large. While Espaillat is not currently working with Perkins, he does not doubt that they will support each other in the future.

Bringing the bill to the state legislature also raises questions of constitutionality. Some claim that allowing non-citizens to vote is unconstitutional. “That is one of the arguments that’s being made,” Barkin acknowledged.

But Perkins says this is not an issue. “In the interpretations we’ve been getting, the state constitution is silent on this matter,” Perkins said. “Municipalities maintain the prerogative.” However, he said that he is working with the New York State Bar Association to examine this question of legality further.

Many international students at Columbia agree that no debate over legality should stop the New York State government from allowing non-citizens to have a voice in government. Non-citizens “still contribute to the economy as a non-citizen, still live in the place,” said Rahul Krishnan, CC’08, who is from India. “Anyone who is affected in any way directly should have the option to vote in the election.”

David Mazzuca, CC ’07, a member of Students United for America, personally agreed: “Someone in here legally should be involved in the process,” he said.

Perkins agrees that the fight for non-citizen voting is, at its core, about allowing everyone to have a say in how they live. “If the bottom line is fix the sidewalks,” Perkins said, “Two voices screaming fix the sidewalk is louder than one voice.”


My Turn:

Voting is a right and privilege of Citizenship.

US Citizens tend to forget that the right to Citiznship and the right to vote have been paid dearly by our people through the hisotry of our country.

Our country welcomes all peoples regardless of origins.

Inmigrants come to the USA for several reasons, political, economic, social, religious.

Our country allows all to reach their innermost ambitions within their own capabilities and the only limitatiosn are those one creates for oneself - that is not the norm in most countries of this earth.

This country provides the same opportunities to inmigrants as it does to natives, but the right to vote is reserved to Citizens. I know many inmigrants that have lived in the USA far longer than the 5 years required for Citizenship but they have not become Citizens. By joining the US Armed Forces the Citizenship process is greatly reduced.

Granting voting rights to non-Citizens will dilute the value of our American Citizenship, in fact it will tell inmigrants that they do not have to become one of us and it will tell us that we are not one nation with a united future as AMERICANS.

The fact that a an inmigrant pays taxes falls into the category of paying their dues to become one of us, an AMERICAN.

Our country is one of the very few countries where people from all over the world can come a become one of the many that makes the one nation we all love.

An inmigrant wants to vote? Become a Citizen and do vote!

Bill and Adriano you are my friends whom I admire, but on this one you are both WRONG!!!

J. Reyes-Montblanc
Cuba-born AMERICAN
Veteran US Marines

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