NYC Approves Bill to Allow Roughly 800K Green Card Holders to Vote in Municipal Elections

The New York City Council approved a bill Thursday that allows roughly 800,000 green card holders and so-called "Dreamers" to vote in municipal elections.

Mayor Bill de Blasio said he would not veto the measure, leaving only potential legal challenges as opposition.

Non-citizens still would not be allowed to vote in state elections for governor, judges, and legislators nor in federal elections for president and members of Congress.

Over a dozen communities in the United States have already given non-citizens the right to vote in local elections, including 11 towns in Maryland and two in Vermont. However, New York City is the largest city yet to grant non-citizens voting rights.

"It is no secret, we are making history today. Fifty 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," said Council Member Ydanis Rodriguez, a main sponsor of the bill, after Thursday's vote in a statement.

The Board of Elections expects to develop an implementation plan by July. It would include voter registration rules and measures to make separate ballots for municipal elections so non-citizens couldn't cast ballots in federal and state elections. The law wouldn't be implemented until the 2023 election.

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

Noncitizens, Voting Rights, New York City
The bill approved by the New York City City Council that allows non-citizens to vote in municipal elections would not be implemented until the 2023 elections. First, the Board of Elections will develop an implementation plan by July. In this photo, activists participate in a rally on the steps of City Hall ahead of a City Council vote to allow lawful permanent residents to cast votes in elections to pick the mayor, City Council members and other municipal officeholders, Thursday, Dec. 9, 2021, in New York. Mary Altaffer/AP Photo

The city's move could inflame the national debate over voting rights, particularly among some who wrongly assert that rampant fraud by non-citizens has taken place in federal elections.

Last year, Alabama, Colorado, and Florida adopted rules that would preempt any attempts to pass laws like the one in New York City. Arizona and North Dakota already had prohibitions on the books.

"The bill we're doing today will have national repercussions," said the council's majority leader, Laurie Cumbo, a Democrat who opposed the bill. She expressed concern that the measure could diminish the influence of African American voters.

Legally documented, voting-age non-citizens comprise nearly one in nine of the city's 7 million voting-age inhabitants. The measure would allow non-citizens 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.

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 non-citizens and should have first sought action by state lawmakers.

The Associated Press contributed to this report.

Noncitizens, Voting Rights, New York City
In the implementation plan for the law, the Board of Elections would focus on things such as voter registration rules and measures that would make separate ballots for municipal elections so non-citizens couldn’t cast ballots in federal and state elections. In this photo, people visit a voting site at a YMCA on Election Day, Nov. 2, 2021 in the Brooklyn borough of New York City. Spencer Platt/Getty Images