New York Republicans Sue City Over New Bill Allowing Non-Citizens to Vote

New York City council member Ydanis Rodriguez speaks during a rally on the steps of City Hall to allow lawful permanent residents to cast votes in municipal elections on 9 December 2021 in New York. Photograph: Mary Altaffer/AP Photo Source: New York City council member Ydanis Rodriguez speaks during a rally on the steps of City Hall to allow lawful permanent residents to cast votes in municipal elections in New York., file photo, December 9, 2021. (Mary Altaffer/AP via The Guardian)

Several New York Republicans are taking legal action against a recent New York law that will allow roughly 800,000 non-citizens to vote in local elections.

The lawsuit which was filed in Staten Island Supreme Court on Monday asks the courts to block the City Board of Elections and the city’s mayor, Eric Adams, from allowing the law to go into effect. The lawsuit details, “The law is clear and the ethics are even clearer: we shouldn’t be allowing citizens of other nations to vote in our elections, full stop. We are only two weeks into the Adams Administration and he is already kowtowing to the radical City Council.”

The lawsuit was brought forward by Republican assemblymen and council members including Democratic representative Robert Holden of Queens.

New York Republican Party Chairman Nick Langworthy who is also a plaintiff in the suit explains, “This lawsuit is the only thing that will stop them from their ultimate goal of eradicating all the lines between citizens and non-citizens.

The city’s new council minority leader also brought up concerns about the constitutionality of the law. Councilman Joe Borelli points to the state’s constitution, Article 2, Section 1 that details “every citizen” age 18 and older has the right to vote in all elections. “Anyone reading NY state election law in plain English can see that it prohibits foreign citizen voting,” explains Borelli.

Another interpretation of that provision, however, could be that the state constitution guarantees citizens the right to vote without prohibiting the legislature from extending the franchise to other groups.

Also, as New York immigration attorney Scott Messinger points out, the word “citizen” can have multiple meanings. A strict interpretation of the word, according to Messinger, would mean those born in the United States or foreign-born people who naturalized or derived citizenship through a parent. On the other hand, a more general interpretation of the word citizen could just mean a denizen of the area. “It will be the court’s job to interpret the word,” Messinger says.

My biggest concern with the law is that it might cause people to believe they can vote in federal elections, which is illegal and could result in deportation.
— Scott Messinger, Immigration Attorney

The new law has especially gained criticism from Republicans throughout the nation, who allege that the law was put forth to help Democrats advance their political motives since many immigrants who are not yet citizens tend to lean left.

Former secretary of state Mike Pompeo also heavily criticized the new law Monday night on Fox News’ The Faulkner Focus. “To think we would allow foreigners to vote in American elections without them having U.S. citizenship is really quite something,” Pompeo shared.

Attorney Messinger also points out that the right to vote is a very large impetus for foreign-born people to seek citizenship through naturalization, and this new law might take away that important incentive. “My biggest concern with the law,” says Messinger, “is that it might cause people to believe they can vote in federal elections, which is illegal and could result in deportation.”

The new law was introduced under former mayor Bill de Blasio’s administration and was passed in December by the city council even though several members opposed it. When the new mayor, Eric Adams took office, he announced that he would be keeping the bill in place.

Adams shared in a statement, “While I initially had some concerns about one aspect of the bill, I had a productive dialogue with my colleagues in government that put those concerns at ease. I believe allowing the legislation to be enacted is by far the best choice, and look forward to bringing millions more into the democratic process.”

Though this bill marks NYC as the first major city in the nation that would allow non-citizens to vote in local elections, it is not the first of its kind in the nation. There are over a dozen communities including 11 in Maryland and two in Vermont that allow non-citizens to vote in local elections.

Under this new law, Dreamers —immigrants brought here illegally as children, and individuals lawfully allowed to work in the U.S., would be allowed to vote in local elections. To qualify, these non-citizens must have lived in the city for at least 30 days.

Ydanis Rodriguez, a driving force behind the law’s success, shared of the new bill, “We build a stronger democracy when we include the voices of immigrants,” Rodriguez explained. Rodriguez later shared that while he supports the bill, he has also pondered how he feels about the 30 permanent resident requirements.

Nadia El-Yaouti
Nadia El-Yaouti
Nadia El-Yaouti is a postgraduate at James Madison University where she studied English and Education. She lives in Central Virginia with her husband and two little girls. Although she considers herself a workaholic, when she’s not juggling work, you can be sure to find her traveling the world with her little family.