On December 9, 2021, the New York City Council passed a bill allowing some noncitizens to vote in New York City elections.
According to City & State New York, the legislation will allow “immigrants with permanent residency or legal work authorization” to vote in New York City races for mayor, City Council, comptroller, public advocate, and borough president; voters will be required to have resided in New York City for 30 days prior to the election in which they wish to vote. The bill was passed by a vote of 33 to 14, with two abstentions. While New York City Mayor Bill de Blasio has questioned the constitutionality of the measure, he has also stated that he will not veto it. The legislation is expected to allow 800,000 to 900,000 noncitizens to vote.
There are several major problems with this bill. First, there is a question of constitutionality. The New York State Constitution states that “every citizen” has the right to vote. Does this language merely state a minimum requirement and allow municipalities to go beyond that requirement if they so choose? Or is this language exclusive? Second, there is the problem of fairness. Allowing noncitizens to vote dilutes the impact of citizens’ votes. Third, there is a practical problem. The poorly-structured New York City Board of Elections is known for its incompetence. Will the Board be able to handle allowing noncitizens to vote without opening the door to voter fraud? How will the Board ensure that noncitizens are not mistakenly permitted to vote in federal and state races? Will separate sets of ballots for citizens and noncitizens be required? When asked whether he trusted the Board to successfully implement this legislation, City Council Speaker Corey Johnson replied, “‘It’s trust, but verify. I don’t know. They screw things up a lot.’” That’s not exactly a vote of confidence.
New York State Assembly Minority Leader Will Barclay (R-Pulaski) blasted the City Council’s action, asserting that the legislation “undermines our elections and diminishes the value of American citizenship. The agenda of liberal Democrats keeps moving in a more radical, extremist and dangerous direction. This is just the latest example.’”