NEW YORK — Hundreds of thousands of immigrants could get the right to vote in New York City elections under a proposal that would mark the biggest expansion yet of efforts to enfranchise them.
The measure, aired at a City Council hearing Thursday, would make New York the biggest locale to let non-citizens cast ballots. Advocates estimate that more than 800,000 green card and visa holders would be able to help choose the mayor, council members and other city officials.
The proposal, which is in play amid a fractious debate in Washington over overhauling immigration laws, may amplify a decades-long debate over whether voting rights should be reserved for citizenship or embrace newcomers on the premise that they also have a stake in the society.
“We’re all involved in politics since we’re born. And the people who look for government to work for them have to be involved in the political process,” Dominican immigrant Jose Torrero said through a translator in an interview.
Torrero, 70, left Santo Domingo to join his daughter in New York four years ago and has a green card. He’s preparing to apply for citizenship, but it’s likely years away. He was active in politics in his homeland, and he’d like to vote for New York candidates who share his views on immigration, job creation and other issues.
While immigrant and voting-rights advocates see non-citizen suffrage as a matter of taxpayer fairness and civic engagement, some officeholders and others view the vote as a fundamental province of citizenship, a privilege to hold out as a goal for new arrivals.
“Voting is the most important right we are granted as citizens, and you should have to go through the process of becoming a citizen and declaring allegiance to this country before being given that right,” Mayor Michael Bloomberg said through a spokeswoman.