Sunday 25 February 2024

New York City’s non-citizen voting law struck down as unconstitutional

 A New York City initiative that would have allowed the city's approximately 800,000 legal non-citizens the right to vote in local elections was struck down by a state appeals court as unconstitutional.

The proposal, passed as a city law in 2022, would have allowed green card holders and non-citizens living in New York City with federal work authorizations the right to vote in local elections for mayor, public advocate, comptroller, borough president and members of the New York City Council. This would have created some 800,000 new eligible voters in the city of 8.5 million.

The law was championed by progressive Democrats in the city who claimed that the "Our City, Our Vote" bill would make politics more representative and turn New York City into a more inclusive place for immigrants. Opponents of the bill warned that it would turn into a logistical nightmare leading to voter fraud and that Democrats only wanted to grant legal non-citizens voting rights to shore up their support. ( 

The bill was easily passed by the city's Democratic supermajority in December 2021, but Republicans immediately sued as soon as the bill became law in January 2022. A lower court judge on conservative-leaning Staten Island struck it down months later.

The administration of Mayor Eric Adams has also come to the law's defense and appealed the lower court's ruling against it.

Appellate court rules only U.S. citizens can participate in elections

In a ruling with one dissent, the four-person panel in the Appellate Division for the Second Judicial Department in New York ruled that "this local law was enacted in violation of the New York State Constitution and Municipal Home Rule Law, and thus, must be declared null and void," according to Associate Justice Paul Wooten who wrote the ruling.

The appellate court's majority agreed that the clause in the state constitution that "every citizen shall be entitled to vote" refers exclusively to citizens of the United States. The court further ruled that a provision of New York state's Municipal Home Rule Law requires changes so that future modifications to local electoral laws must be passed by voter referendum rather than by the local legislature alone.

In her dissent, Associate Judge Lilian Wan argued that striking down the non-citizen voting law deprives New York's municipalities from deciding for themselves.

"The majority, by deeming the non-citizen voting law invalid, effectively prohibits municipalities across the state from deciding for themselves the persons who are entitled to a voice in the local electoral process," she wrote. "The majority's determination also disenfranchises nearly one million residents of [New York City], despite the fact that it's people's duly elected representatives have opted to enfranchise those same residents."

"During a time where nearly 200,000 migrants have flooded our city and streets, disrupting the public and attacking our police officers, my colleagues and I have worked tirelessly to protect our voting laws which were created for citizens of the United States," said Assemblyman Michael Tannousis (R-Staten Island), one of the lead plaintiffs in the case. "Democracy always wins and I am proud to say it was delivered yet again today."

It is still unclear whether or not Adams' administration will try to appeal the appellate court's decision to the State Supreme Court.

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