New York City Allows Noncitizens to Vote in Local Elections

By: - December 10, 2021 12:00 am

Voters cast ballots in New York City during the November mayoral election. The city now allows noncitizens to vote in municipal elections. Anthony Behar/SIPA USA via The Associated Press

New York City this week became the largest municipality in the country to allow people who are not U.S. citizens to vote in local elections.

The city council approved a measure by a wide margin to allow 800,000 adult noncitizens to vote for mayor, city council, comptroller, public advocate and borough leaders. The measure requires noncitizens to have lived in New York City for at least 30 days and have a work permit. They will not be able to vote in state and federal elections.

Nationwide, 14 municipalities allow noncitizens to vote, including two Vermont cities that approved similar measures earlier this year. San Francisco allows noncitizens to vote in school board elections, while nine Maryland towns permit noncitizen voting in local elections.

“At a time when some states are restricting voting rights and when the nation grapples with questions about the nature of its identity and purpose, New York City sends a powerful message by expanding voting rights to immigrants as full members of the community,” said Ron Hayduk, a professor of political science at San Francisco State University, who has studied this issue.

Republicans vowed to sue New York City.

“This is perhaps the worst idea out of New York City Democrats ever, and that’s really saying something,” New York Republican Party Chair Nick Langworthy said in a Dec. 3 statement. “This radical legislation is unconstitutional, un-American and downright dangerous.”

In 1968, New York City was the first place in the United States to allow noncitizens to vote in school board elections. Those rights lasted until 2003, when the city abolished school boards, transferring power to the mayor.

Proponents of these measures argue that since noncitizens are taxpayers whose children attend local schools, they should have a say on local decisions. In communities like New York City, immigrants account for more than a third of the population. But these proposals have ignited the fierce debates that often come with immigration and voting rights measures.

Lawmakers in Washington, D.C., and Illinois are currently debating measures that would allow noncitizens to vote in local elections, as well.

Meanwhile, some states have moved to explicitly ban noncitizens from voting in any elections, including Alabama, Arizona, Colorado, Florida and North Dakota.

The Republican National Committee has filed a lawsuit in Vermont to contest amended city charters in Montpelier and Winooski that allow noncitizens to vote locally.

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Matt Vasilogambros
Matt Vasilogambros

Matt Vasilogambros covers voting rights, gun laws and Western climate policy for Stateline. He lives in San Diego, California.