The New York City Council is expected to pass legislation that will enable a large number of non-citizens to vote in municipal elections, extending voting rights to legal permanent residents and green card holders and delayed action beneficiaries.
The proposal, backed by Manhattan Councilman Ydanis Rodriguez (D), has a veto-proof support majority in the body, but issues remain over the council’s legal power to permit immigrants who have not yet acquired the citizens’ rights to vote for mayor, city comptroller, and the council. It would not apply to state or federal competitions.
According to a 2018 study from the Mayor’s Office of Immigrant Affairs, the five boroughs are home to an estimated 660,000 green cardholders. “We have the votes, it’s going to be a very big deal,” said Council Speaker Corey Johnson, who has scheduled the vote despite misgivings from Mayor de Blasio.
Rodriguez acknowledged that the motion will be voted on December 9th. According to the Mayor’s Office of Immigrant Affairs, the bill would cover nearly 800,000 New Yorkers, including 622,000 green cardholders.
During his daily conference on 23 November, Hizzoner reiterated his conviction that only state lawmakers have the authority to pass legislation like this, but he also stated that if it passes, he will not veto it. “I do have reservations, but obviously I want to see exactly what they’re doing,” de Blasio told reporters. “I want citizenship to be something that people pursue fully, quickly, every chance they get,” he added. “I’m concerned about that. I’m also concerned about the legal question, which is unclear whether it’s something that can be done on the local level.”
Johnson said that he believes the Council has the authority, but that he expects the move to be challenged in court. “We believe we’re on solid legal ground,” the speaker said, during his own press conference Tuesday. “You can never be entirely sure on anything that we pass. I mean, we get sued all the time on bills, and ultimately, judges make decisions.”
If the measure is passed as expected in December, New York City will become the country’s largest jurisdiction to enable legal residents to vote. The bill is expected to pass with a veto-proof margin on 9 December. Non-citizens would be allowed to vote in municipal elections, but not in federal or state elections. However, the bill highlights long-standing problems about who should be permitted to engage in the political process in the country.
Immigrants who live in the city legally, pay taxes, send their children to public schools, and rely on local services, according to supporters, should have a say in who becomes mayor or represents them on the City Council. The drive-in New York City to enable noncitizens to vote comes as an increasingly split country grapples with a slew of new laws restricting voting rights, as well as the economic issues brought on by falling immigration.
Last year, voters in Alabama, Colorado, and Florida approved ballot initiatives limiting voting to U.S. citizens, joining Arizona and North Dakota in prohibiting non-citizens from voting in state and local elections. Historians claim that conflicts about the ability of non-citizens to vote are as old as the country and that several states allowed the practice well into the twentieth century. Immigrants must have lived in New York City for 30 days and be otherwise eligible to vote under state law, according to the measure.