NYC’s Non-Citizen Voting Law Ruled Unconstitutional on Appeal

NYC’s Non-Citizen Voting Law Ruled Unconstitutional on Appeal

By Jeff Coltin | Politico

NEW YORK — A state appeals court ruled that a New York City law that would allow non-citizens to vote in local elections is unconstitutional — marking a win for the Republican elected officials who sued to block it.

“We determine 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,” read the Wednesday ruling from Paul Wooten, an associate justice of the Appellate Division for the Second Judicial Department in New York.

Mayor Eric Adams’ administration has been defending the law and appealed a lower court’s ruling against it. A spokesperson didn’t immediately respond when asked if City Hall planned to appeal to the state’s highest court.

The 2022 law has not yet gone into effect, since it faced immediate legal challenges. It sought to let green card holders and other people living in New York City with federal work authorization to vote in local elections for offices including mayor and City Council — applying to some 800,000 new eligible voters in a city of 8.5 million.

Championed by progressive Democrats, supporters said the “Our City, Our Vote” bill would make politics more representative, and the city more inclusive for immigrants. Opponents — mostly Republicans — said it would turn into a logistical nightmare leading to voter fraud, and that Democrats only wanted to shore up their numbers.

“I won baby, I won,” Council Republican leader Joe Borelli said in an interview from Israel, where he is on a study tour with fellow New York lawmakers. “This was an easy case. All they had to do was read the state constitution and municipal law. The criticism falls on the proponents of the bill.”

Borelli was one of the plaintiffs who sued as soon as the bill became law in Jan. 2022. Fellow Staten Island Republicans Rep. Nicole Malliotakis and Borough President Vito Fossella joined him, among others.

A Staten Island lower court judge struck it down months later.

“This is why they picked the Staten Island jurisdiction for the lawsuit,” election lawyer Sarah Steiner said in an interview, referring to the politically conservative leanings of the borough. “It was a more likely place to get the underlying decision.”

In a 3-1 ruling, the appellate court agreed that the clause in the state constitution that “every citizen shall be entitled to vote…” refers exclusively to United States citizens. And the court ruled that a provision of state Municipal Home Rule Law requires changes to elections to be passed by voter referendum, rather than a local legislature.

In fact, New York City adopted ranked-choice voting for city primaries with a 2019 ballot question

The New York Immigration Coalition, which supports non-citizen voting, decried the ruling.

“While we are still reviewing the decision and its impact on immigrant New Yorkers, the lawsuit remains another shameful attempt by xenophobic Republicans who would disenfranchise residents rather than promote a more inclusive and participatory democracy,” NYIC Executive Director Murad Awawdeh said in a statement. “Immigrant New Yorkers deserve a say in how their local government functions and spends their tax money, and we remain committed to ensuring the expansion of voting rights.”

Non-citizen voting is still extremely rare in the United States, but there is a growing movement to legalize it.

Washington, D.C., overcame opposition from congressional Republicans to allow non-citizens to vote, but the city’s law has been challenged in court. A San Francisco court upheld a law in 2023 allowing certain non-citizens to vote in school board elections. And three Vermont cities, including Burlington, recently allowed legal residents to vote in local elections.

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