Judge Strikes Down New York City Law Allowing Noncitizen Voters

By: - June 28, 2022 12:00 am

A New York City voter casts a ballot in 2020. A state judge struck down a local law that would have allowed noncitizens to vote in municipal elections. Erica Price/Sipa USA via The Associated Press

A New York state judge this week struck down a New York City ordinance that would have allowed around 800,000 noncitizens to vote in local elections.

The law, which the City Council passed in December, would have allowed legal residents who are not U.S. citizens—including green card holders and those with Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals status—to vote in municipal elections beginning in 2023, if they had lived in the city at least 30 days. The law would have applied to mayoral and other municipal elections, but would not have afforded the right to vote in statewide or national races.

In his ruling, State Supreme Court Justice Ralph Porzio said the ordinance violated the state constitution, which protects the voting rights only of U.S. citizens.

“There is no statutory ability for the City of New York to issue inconsistent laws permitting non-citizens to vote and exceed the authority granted to it by the New York State Constitution,” Porzio wrote. “Though voting is a right that so many citizens take for granted, the City of New York cannot ‘obviate’ the restrictions imposed by the constitution.”

City leaders are evaluating their next steps and whether they will appeal the ruling.

Republicans in the state lauded the high court’s decision; they had argued the ordinance would have given Democrats an unfair advantage in local elections.

Republican state Assemblymember Michael Tannousis, one of the plaintiffs in the lawsuit and a son of Greek immigrants, told the Times Union that the ordinance could have introduced fraud into the voting system.

“This decision is a major win for democracy and election integrity in New York City,” Tannousis said in a statement. “The New York state constitution and the letter of the law could not be more clear—only citizens are permitted to vote in New York elections.”

Republicans also feared that Democrats were using the New York City ordinance as a test before introducing similar statewide legislation. Democrats, however, said Republicans were “playing politics” with the lives of nearly a million New Yorkers who wanted to be represented in local government.

“At a time when voting rights are already under sustained attack nationwide, this decision is a major blow to our community,” said Democratic Assemblymember Yuh-Line Niou in a statement to the Times Union.

At least 14 municipalities around the country allow noncitizens to vote in local elections, including San Francisco and cities in Maryland and Vermont. Lawmakers in Illinois and Washington, D.C., recently have considered similar legislation. Proponents of these statutes argue that since noncitizens pay taxes and send their children to local schools, they should have a voice in local issues.

Meanwhile, some states in recent years have banned noncitizens from voting in elections; they include Alabama, Arizona, Colorado, Florida and North Dakota.

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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.