Immigrant Advocates, Council Members demand $25M in budget for non-citizen voting law

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City Council Member Shahana Hanif (D – Brooklyn) at rally calling for more funding for immigrants in city budget on City Hall steps. Thursday, June 9, 2022.
Photo by Ethan Stark-Miller

As city-budget negotiations are rumored to be wrapping up in the coming days, a coalition of City Council members and immigrant advocates rallied on the steps of City Hall calling on Mayor Eric Adams to put $25 million in funding into implementing a law that grants non-citizens the right to vote.

In the City Council’s budget response to the mayor’s preliminary budget, they said $25 million was needed to fund the voter outreach, education and language access needed to properly implement the law. Adams didn’t include that funding in his $99.7 billion executive budget released in April.

“We call on this administration to fully fund Our City, Our Vote’s implementation to make sure that we’ve got adequate voter outreach, voter registration and get out the vote implementation,” said Council Member Shahana Hanif (D – Brooklyn), who chairs the council Committee on Immigration. 

“We need the dollars to go to these organizations to do the work to reach every single eligible new voter,” she added.

At the rally organized by the New York Immigration Coalition, Hanif was joined by her council colleagues Sandy Nurse (D – Brooklyn), Alexa Aviles (D – Brooklyn), Sandra Ung (D – Queens), Shaun Abreu (D – Manhattan) and Carmen De La Rosa (D – Manhattan). Also in attendance were immigrant advocacy organizations including African Communities Together, South Asian Council for Social Services and Masa.

The coalition also called for more funding to expand several other city services to its immigrant population. This includes $6.1 million to expand education programs for immigrant youth, maintaining $4 million in funding for Access Health NYC – an educational campaign for accessing healthcare – and renewing $58.2 million for immigrant legal services.

The “Our City, Our Vote” law, which was passed by the last City Council at the end of last year and became law in January, would give the city’s roughly 800,000 legal permanent residents the right to vote in municipal elections, so long as they’ve lived in the city for more than 30 days and are authorized to live and work here. The city Board of Elections (BOE) was charged with coming up with a plan for implementing the law by July first.

Nurse said the $25 million allocation is essential for making Our City, Our Vote viable and isn’t too much to ask considering the budget already has a nearly $1 billion price tag.

“The $25 million that is needed to fund and implement Our City, Our Vote is so important,” Nurse said. “We are getting down to the wire and we cannot have a sloppy rollout of this. We need the money for outreach and education. If we do not fund this piece of paper, this bill, what we are saying to immigrant New Yorkers is that we rely on your labor, but we don’t want to hear your voice. What we are saying is that it’s not just a city of immigrants, it’s the city of exploited immigrant workers. And it’s unacceptable.”

Am Adams spokesperson didn’t answer PoliticsNY’s question on whether the mayor supports meeting the council’s $25 million funding ask, but that he fully supports the law and included money for its implementation in the budget through DemocracyNYC – a city initiative to increase voter participation – and the city BOE. 

“Mayor Adams looks forward to welcoming hundreds of thousands of New Yorkers into the democratic process when the non-citizen voting law goes into effect,” the spokesperson said. “The city currently has funding in the budget for outreach through both DemocracyNYC, as well as funding for NYC BOE. We will continue to monitor needs associated with the law and assess appropriate funding levels.”

Whether the mayor agrees to the council’s funding request or not, the non-citizen voting law may be thrown out altogether depending on the outcome of a lawsuit brought by a group of Republican Staten Island lawmakers in Richmond County Supreme Court that include Council Minority Leader Joe Borelli, Council Member David Carr and Congress Member Nicole Malliotakis. Proceedings for the lawsuit began in Staten Island on Tuesday.

They plaintiffs argue Our City, Our Vote violates the state constitution and election laws and would make it more difficult for Republicans to get reelected.