NYC Council approves bill allowing non-citizens to vote in local elections

The New York City Council has approved a bill that would allow non-citizens to vote in municipal elections.

The bill's supporters say that it is a victory for the city's over 800,000 tax-paying immigrants with green cards and work authorization.

Known as Intro 1867, the bill does not confer voting rights for state or federal elections, nor does it permit unauthorized immigrants to cast ballots in the city. 

Councilman Francisco Moya, whose family hails from Ecuador, choked up as he spoke in support of the bill.

"This is for my beautiful mother who will be able to vote for her son," said Moya, while joining the session by video with his immigrant mother at his side.

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However, the measure's opponents say its 30-day residency requirement is too short and the overall bill undermines naturalized citizens' hard-earned efforts to gain the right to vote.

"I believe this is a slap in the face to those immigrants who worked so hard to obtain United States citizenship so that they can have a voice in our electoral process," said Inna Vernikov, a Republican City Council member from Brooklyn.

The city’s move could enflame the national debate over voting rights, particularly among some who wrongly assert that rampant fraud by noncitizens has taken place in federal elections.

Democratic Majority Leader Laurie Cumbo also suggested the bill would dilute the city's black vote.

"This particular legislation is going to shift the power dynamics in NYC in a major way, and we do not have the numbers or the information to know how that is going to impact African-American communities," Cumbo said.

Meanwhile, Mayor Bill de Blasio has said he opposes the bill on legal grounds, believing it's something only the state, not city government can enact.

However, while de Blasio says he will not veto the bill, the measure is likely to face court challenges once it does become law.

Legally documented, voting-age noncitizens comprise nearly one in nine of the city’s 7 million voting-age inhabitants. The measure would allow noncitizens who have been lawful permanent residents of the city for at least 30 days, as well as those authorized to work in the U.S., including so-called "Dreamers," to help select the city’s mayor, city council members, borough presidents, comptroller and public advocate.

"It is no secret, we are making history today. 50 years down the line when our children look back at this moment they will see a diverse coalition of advocates who came together to write a new chapter in New York City’s history by giving immigrant New Yorkers the power of the ballot," Council Member Ydanis Rodriguez, a main sponsor of the bill, said in a statement after Thursday’s vote.

The law would direct the Board of Elections to draw up an implementation plan by July, including voter registration rules and provisions that would create separate ballots for municipal races to prevent noncitizens from casting ballots in federal and state contests. Noncitizens wouldn’t be allowed to vote until elections in 2023.

Even if de Blasio were to decide to veto the bill, there was enough support to override it. The measure would become law by default if the mayor decides not to act on it. Incoming mayor Eric Adams has said he supports the bill.

City Councilman Joseph Borelli, the Republican leader, said a legal challenge is likely. Opponents say the council lacks the authority on its own to grant voting rights to noncitizens and should have first sought action by state lawmakers.

New York City would become the largest municipality in the nation to extend non-citizen voting rights, joining towns in Maryland and Vermont, while other local governments from California to Massachusets are also considering similar measures. 

With the Associated Press.