More than 800,000 noncitizen New Yorkers will get to vote in local elections thanks to a bill passed by the City Council on Thursday, making the Big Apple the largest jurisdiction in the country to extend the right to immigrants.
A long-sought priority for immigration advocates, the measure gives legal permanent residents like green card holders the right to vote in elections for mayor, comptroller, Council and other municipal offices as long as they’ve lived in the city for at least 30 days.
Also allowed to vote in local elections under the bill are immigrants on certain work visas and those protected by federal relief programs, such as Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals.
The bill does not give the right to vote to undocumented immigrants. It also does not extend voting eligibility in elections for president, governor, Congress or other state and federal offices.
Before the vote, Democratic Council Speaker Corey Johnson touted the bill as a counterweight to a rash of legislation making it harder to vote in states like Texas and Florida enacted by Republican lawmakers inspired by ex-President Donald Trump’s false claim that the 2020 election was stolen.
“We have seen measures all across the United States of America to roll back voting rights across the country. And it has been alarming for the future of our democracy,” Johnson said, adding that the Council bill will “expand democracy in New York City to make sure that people are more connected to civic and local matters in a fair way. This is a historic day.”
The bill passed in a 33-14 vote. Many of the Council’s Democratic members erupted in cheers and applause when the vote tally was announced in the chamber.
“Now we have a voice,” said Manhattan Councilman Ydanis Rodriguez, who wrote the bill and is originally from the Dominican Republic and could not vote until he became a U.S. citizen in 2000.
More than 500,000 of the noncitizen New Yorkers who will get the vote under bill are green card holders, according to city data. The bill’s passage paves the way for the city’s 2023 elections to become the first in which noncitizens can vote since laws barring immigrant participation in local elections passed in the 19th century.
In contrast to the jubilant tone among Democrats, the Council’s Republican minority contended that the bill is unconstitutional.
Staten Island Councilman Joe Borelli, the Republican minority leader, vowed that members on his side of the aisle will file lawsuits to get the bill blocked from becoming law.
“This is not legal what we are doing,” Borelli protested, pointing to a portion of the state constitution that holds that “every citizen” is allowed to vote.
A handful of moderate Democratic members joined the GOP minority in voting against the bill, though they offered varying reasons for their opposition.
Councilman Mark Gjonaj, a centrist Democrat, forced a vote on a failed motion to delay the bill until next year for further consideration because he said immigrants should have to be residents for longer than 30 days to be allowed to vote.
Most Democratic members, who have attempted to pass versions of the bill for more than a decade, said immigrants have waited long enough.
“We need to pass this and we need to pass it now. We should not wait another minute,” Democrat Councilwoman Tiffany Caban said.
Mayor Bill de Blasio is expected to sign the bill in the coming days.
Legal challenges are expected, and de Blasio has himself raised concern about the legality of the bill, saying he would’ve preferred that the state Legislature pass a constitutional amendment instead.
Mayor-elect Eric Adams, who takes office Jan. 1, echoed de Blasio’s sentiment while speaking to reporters in Brooklyn on Thursday, and also sided with Gjonaj’s concern about the 30-day requirement.
“When it comes down to city-wide control — the mayor, public advocate — and when it comes down to someone being here for 30 days, that is something that I think we need to look at and then we need to find out if it’s constitutionally sound based on the state level,” Adams said.
Another argument against the bill floated by conservatives is that noncitizen voting devalues the importance of citizenship.
“This is a slap in the face to those immigrants who obtained citizenship so that they could get a say in our election process,” said GOP Councilwoman Inna Vernikov.
But Marriane Padilla, 33, a Queens nurse who immigrated from the Philippines and had to go through a 5-year process to become a citizen, didn’t buy Vernikov’s claim.
Padilla said she believes that more is the merrier when it comes to voting — especially since most noncitizen New Yorkers pay taxes and participate in the city’s civic life in various other ways.
“Every person counts,” Padilla said. “If a lot of people vote then a lot of opinion can be voiced out.”
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