Chinatown in Manhattan. Chinese make up the largest group of foreigners in New York City after immigrants from the Dominican Republic.
Nowhere in the United States are more foreigners living than New York City, the country’s largest city. It is said that around 800 different languages are spoken here – a world record. According to official figures, more than a third of the population of over 8.8 million people (slightly more than the total of Switzerland) were born abroad. So it is no coincidence that some foreigners will be able to participate in the local elections next year.
That’s what a new law passed by the city’s parliament at the beginning of the year wants with the blessing of the city’s new mayor (mayor) Eric Adams. It affects about 800,000 residents who are not US citizens but who have a work permit. This could have far-reaching consequences for the city’s political landscape, considering that the 5 million active voters currently registered could increase by 16%. Anyone who manages to win these new voters can win future elections for city parliament or mayor.
It is true that the said 800,000 people are by no means a homogeneous bloc, and political positions are likely to be as diverse as that of the languages mentioned. In some neighborhoods where foreigners make up a large proportion, such as Washington Heights in northern Manhattan, new voters can decide who should sit on individual city councils, says Ron Haydock, a professor of politics at the University of San Francisco.
The largest group of immigrants here comes from the Dominican Republic. They are the largest foreign minority in the city, followed by the Chinese, Jamaicans, and Mexicans. By the way, about 14,000 Swiss also live in New York. However, it is unlikely to have a decisive impact on the upcoming elections – also because there is no “little Switzerland”, that is, an area of the city where the Swiss make up a large proportion of the population.
However, the lawsuit against the new law is still pending in court. Opponents say foreign voting rights are unconstitutional, difficult to implement logistically, and will above all undervalue American minorities such as African American voters. On the other hand, proponents say that foreign nationals were granted a long-overdue right to political participation, while always being taxed, for example.
The lines of controversy are known from Switzerland, where the topic is disputed with great regularity. All the municipalities in the cantons of Neuchâtel, Jura, Vaud, Friborg and Geneva and the individual municipalities of Appenzell Ausserhoden and Graubünden are familiar with the voting rights of foreigners in various forms. In the European Union, EU citizens who have their main place of residence in the municipality of another EU country can participate in municipal votes there since the 1990s.
There are already several places in the United States that allow foreigners to vote: eleven municipalities in Maryland and two in Vermont. According to Haydock, forty countries have had voting rights for foreigners since the founding of the United States. However, they all abandoned it almost a hundred years ago. San Francisco allows foreigners to vote in school board elections.
New York was a pioneer here and expanded school board elections as early as the 1980s. In the aforementioned Washington Heights, Dominican immigrants mobilized and elected Guillermo Linares, their first American official. In 2002, the mayor took over the management of the schools. Twenty years later, the great clock for foreign voting rights can now strike in the United States.
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