The New York City Council voted on Thursday to allow noncitizens to vote in municipal elections, making New York the largest city to do so. Under the new legislation, more than 800,000 New Yorkers would be allowed to cast ballots for the next mayor, comptroller, council member, and borough president.
The bill officially creates a new voter category: municipal voters, people who are not U.S. citizens but are recognized as lawful permanent residents or have official authorization to work in the country. Municipal voters must have resided in the city for at least 30 consecutive days by Election Day. A separate registration form for municipal voters would be created, and for elections that include races they can’t participate in, such as state or federal ones, separate municipal ballots would be produced.
In a statement to Intelligencer, Council Member Carlina Rivera, a co-sponsor of the bill, said, “Sí se puede - yes we can, and yes we did. With voting rights under attack nationwide, we in New York City have a responsibility to stand up in defense of voting as a right - not just a privilege reserved for those in positions of power. Here, power belongs to New Yorkers. To all of us. I am so grateful to my colleague and friend Council Member Ydanis Rodriguez for spearheading this fight along with the New York Immigration Coalition, and proud that we have voted to restore municipal voting rights to non-citizen immigrant New Yorkers”
The bill was reintroduced by Rodriguez, the prime sponsor, in 2020 after past measures had failed. Supporters say this move by the City Council will validate the rights of immigrant New Yorkers who had previously been disenfranchised in local politics in the city where they live. Earlier this year, Felipe De La Hoz wrote for Intelligencer about the potential for the new legislation to empower sections of the city’s electorate that haven’t always been prioritized by local politicians:
What this shift in voter base might really achieve is an increase in the political firepower of immigrant-heavy neighborhoods like Washington Heights, Corona, Sunset Park, and others that are home to large standing populations of permanent residents, regardless of their political leanings. It’s not necessarily that the voter demographics or political viewpoints would fundamentally shift, but balloon in areas of the city that traditionally have had a harder time achieving political representation.
In a New York Post op-ed published just before Thanksgiving, Joe Borelli, the City Council’s Republican minority leader, railed against the proposed legislation, as expected, saying it showed how much “contempt” progressives have for city voters.
“If the champions of this bill really care about our democracy, they would encourage immigrants to strive toward American citizenship — not cheapen it by giving away the store,” Borelli wrote. “And they would take the fundamental question about who can and cannot vote in New York City to the people themselves, by putting this on a ballot referendum in November.”
While a majority of Democrats on the council voted in favor of the bill, Mayor Bill de Blasio has been ambivalent about it, expressing concern over its legality while showing no indication that he intends to block the bill during his final days in office. He spoke in a similar tone during a press conference on Wednesday.
“Right now, I still have very mixed feelings about it. I’ve been honest about that. That hasn’t changed a bit. I think there are still some outstanding legal questions about the city’s authority versus the state’s in this matter. But I respect the City Council,” he said. “So, you know, we’ll see what their final action is there. My assumption is I’m just going to respect whatever they do. But I do think there are still open questions on this for the future.”