NY Mayor Hopeful John Liu: Let Non-Citizens, Parolees And 16-Year-Olds Vote

By Celeste Katz

May 14, 2013 New York Daily News

Democrat John Liu thinks non-citizens should be able to vote -- along with parolees and 16-year-olds.

"When the Founding Fathers decided who was going to vote, I don't think they had citizenship as a requirement. They had taxation as a requirement," Liu, the city comptroller, said at a Monday mayoral candidate forum on voting rights and election reform.

"No taxation without representation!" Liu told the audience at a candidate screening hosted by the New York Democratic Lawyers Council in Manhattan. 

Liu, who came to the U.S. from Taiwan as a child, said a City Council proposal to allow documented, taxpaying immigrants to vote in municipal elections if they've lived New York legally for at least six months is reasonable.

"We want to boost the participation rate," Liu said of the proposal, which has received mixed reviews from other mayoral hopefuls and would make New York unique among major American cities.

"Now, there are people who say voting [is] a privilege of citizenship. I believe it is a privilege of citizenship -- but it's not like the people who want to vote don't want to become citizens," Liu said.

Three other Democrats -- former Comptroller Bill Thompson, ex-Councilman Sal Albanese and the Rev. Erick Salgado -- appeared one by one to field questions at Cardozo Law School.

Thompson said he's still establishing a position on the legality of non-citizen voting. But he and Liu agreed that people who have emerged from prison but remain on parole should be permitted to vote.

"Once you are out of prison and you have done your time, you want people back in again," Thompson said, arguing that as former convicts return to the job market, allowing them to participate in the political process also sends a positive message.

"We want somebody -- as soon as you're out of jail, I want you working" as well as "back in civic life," he said, adding that such restrictions also disenfranchise minorities.

Liu also said voting rights should be extended to people who have served their prison terms but remain on parole: "I think if somebody's on parole, they're presumably out there trying to get back into society, hopefully looking for a job. If they're trying to do the things everyday people can do, then there's no reason why they shouldn't be able to vote."

And Liu says he not only supports pre-registering 16-year-olds to vote, but "I tend to go further than that," saying he has in the past supported allowing people as young as 16 to vote.

"I think that if they're old enough to be recruited for our armed forces and they're going to have somebody in Washington or someone in the backroom deciding if they're going to be deployed on the front lines soon, then they should have the right to vote," he said.

(The U.S. military allows 17-year-olds to enlist with parental consent.)

In general, when it comes to voting, "I don't think age is the sole determining factor. There are some really immature 16-year-olds and there are some really immature 46-year-olds," Liu continued.

"There are some really smart 16-year-olds and there are some really smart 46-year-olds. If they have initiative to go out there and fill out their registration form and then show up to the ballot site, I think they're ready to vote."

Thompson, who appeared last in the four-candidate lineup, declined to say whether 16-year-olds should have the right to vote.

Asked about how he'd improve government ethics during the discussion, co-moderated by former state Assemblyman Michael Benjamin and yours truly, Liu advocated more transparency and said after years of investigations of his own campaign finances, "At the end of the day, there's still nothing but insinuations and innuendoes against me, so people are upset about that process -- and this is going to actually drive up their voting rates."

A jury this month found a former Liu fundraiser, Oliver Pan, guilty of conspiring to break campaign finance laws and his former campaign treasurer, Jenny Hou, guilty of attempting to do so.

Both Thompson and Liu called for Board of Elections reforms to increase overall turnout and make sure minority voters are not disenfranchise, but both stopped short of saying the BOE should fall under the purview of the mayor -- archly commenting that mayoral control hasn't always yielded the best results.

Thompson -- who railed against the city's new electronic voting machines -- defended the fairness of current Campaign Finance Board-imposed spending limits, saying they leveled the playing field for him and other candidates who otherwise might have been boxed out of public office. He also said he would max out on match-eligible donations in the current contest. 

Salgado pulled some laughs from the NYDLC audience by describing himself several times as "little-known," and, during his time center stage, argued that the 3.5 million residents of Puerto Rico are unfairly deprived of the right to vote even as they can claim many of the other rights of U.S. citizens.

And Albanese, the first contender to take the hot seat, highlighted his commitment to campaign finance and election reform, particularly regarding controlling the influence of special interest money in campaigns as well as the Council member item money that has figured into a number of prominent political scandals.

Both men said they oppose allowing ex-convicts to vote until they have fulfilled their parole obligations.

City Council Speaker Christine Quinn's campaign said she could not attend the forum (though her protesters, as usual, showed up); Public Advocate Bill de Blasio agreed to be screened, but later cancelled.