New York City Weighing Bill for 800K Noncitizens to Vote in City Elections

New York City legislators are close to approving a bill that would allow legally documented noncitizens to vote in local city elections.

The legislation would allow for those of voting age who have been legal permanent residents in the city for at least 30 days to vote for local positions such as mayor, city council members and borough presidents.

New York's City Council is expected to ratify the bill on Thursday. If it passes, it would give about 800,000 more people the right to vote in city elections, though they would still not be able to vote in state or federal elections. If passed, the measure would begin to apply in the 2023 elections.

Mayor Bill de Blasio worried that the bill could face legal challenges. He and other New York lawmakers have expressed concern that the new measure could decrease motivation for some permanent residents to become citizens.

"Citizenship has an extraordinary value," he said on Inside City Hall, a news program. "People work so hard for it. We need people in every good way to want to be citizens."

However, de Blasio also said that he would not veto it once it came to his desk, leaving little opposition to the bill.

New York City, local elections
New York's City Council is expected to approve a bill that would allow 800,000 noncitizens to vote in city elections. Above, people visit a voting site at a YMCA on Election Day, November 2, 2021, in Brooklyn, New York. Photo by Spencer Platt/Getty Images

The law would give an electoral voice to the many New Yorkers who love the city and have made it their permanent home but can't easily become U.S. citizens or would rather remain citizens of their home nations for various reasons.

It would also cover "Dreamers" like Eva Santos, 32, who was brought to the U.S. by her parents at age 11 as an unauthorized immigrant, but wasn't able to vote like her friends or go to college when she turned 18.

"It was really hard for me to see how my other friends were able to make decisions for their future, and I couldn't," said Santos, now a community organizer.

More than a dozen communities across the United States currently allow noncitizens to vote, including 11 towns in Maryland and two in Vermont.

San Francisco, through a ballot initiative ratified by voters in 2016, began allowing noncitizens to vote in school board elections—which was also true in New York City until it abolished its boards in 2002 and gave control of schools to the mayor.

The move in Democrat-controlled New York City is a counterpoint to restrictions being enacted in some states, where Republicans have espoused unsupported claims of rampant fraud by noncitizens in federal elections.

Last year, voters in Alabama, Colorado and Florida ratified measures specifying that only U.S. citizens can vote, joining Arizona and North Dakota in adopting rules that would preempt any attempts to pass laws like the one being considered in New York City.

"I think that there's people in our society that go to sleep with so much fear of immigrants that they try to make an argument to disqualify their right to elect their local leaders," said New York City Councilman Ydanis Rodriguez, who is originally from the Dominican Republic and was unable to vote until he became a naturalized U.S. citizen.

"This is about whether we are living in New York City, we are contributing to New York City and paying taxes in New York City," said Rodriguez, a Democrat.

Federal law allows states and local governments to decide who can vote in their elections, but some, including the mayor, have raised concerns about whether state lawmakers must first act to grant the city the authority to extend voting rights to noncitizens.

The minority leader of the City Council, Joseph Borelli, a Republican from Staten Island, said the measure will undoubtedly end up in court.

"It devalues citizenship, and citizenship is the standard by which the state constitution issues or allows for suffrage in New York state elections at all levels," Borelli said.

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.

Giving nonresidents the right to vote could empower them to become a political force that can't be easily ignored, said Anu Joshi, the vice president of policy of the New York Immigration Coalition.

New York City, with more than 3 million foreign-born residents, would be a fitting place to anchor a national movement to expand immigrant voting rights, said Ron Hayduk, now a professor of political science at San Francisco State University but who spent years in New York steeped in the movement for noncitizen voting rights.

"New York, the home of the Statue of Liberty and Ellis Island, prides itself on being the place of immigration," he noted. "So there's this question of what's the place of immigrants in our city—are they really New Yorkers, are they full New Yorkers in the sense of qualifying and deserving the power of the vote and to shape its political future?"

The answer should be a "resounding yes," he said.

The Associated Press contributed to this report.

New York City, election day
New York City is set to approve a bill that would allow legal permanent residents of longer than 30 days to vote in city elections. Above, people cast their votes on Election Day at P.S. 11 Purvis J. Behan Elementary on November 2, 2021, in the Clinton Hill neighborhood of Brooklyn, New York. Photo by Michael M. Santiago/Getty Images