A state court judge ruled against the historic municipal voting rights law the city council passed last December. The law was meant to give tax paying immigrants who aren’t lawful citizens in New York City the right to vote in hyperlocal elections.
“We are disappointed by today’s ruling. The Council passed Local Law 11 to enfranchise nearly one million voters, many Black and Brown New Yorkers, who live here, pay taxes, and contribute to our city,” said Council Speaker Adrienne Adams and Immigration Committee Chair Shahana Hanif in a joint statement about the court ruling.
Under the bill sponsored by then-Councilmember Ydanis Rodriguez, any person who is a lawful permanent resident for at least 30 consecutive days and authorized to work in the U.S. would be eligible to register to vote as a “municipal voter.” They could vote for mayor, comptroller, public advocate, borough president, or councilmember, but not state or federal officials. Registrations would have started Dec. 9, 2022, and people could have begun voting in local elections as of Jan. 9, 2023.
It was set to affect an estimated 800,000 to 900,000 noncitizens.
However, state Republican Party Chair Nick Langworthy and colleagues challenged the validity of the law in court. State Court Judge Ralph Porzio ruled against the noncitizens voting law on three grounds: state constitution, state election law, and the municipal home rule law. The last one, the municipal home rule law, distinctly stated that voters needed to publicly vote on the initiative 60 days after it became law for it to be effective. That didn’t happen.
Fellow of State and Local Policy with the Manhattan Institute, John Ketcham, wrote in his extensive report on noncitizen voting that there were certain positives as well as negatives when it came to the actual implementation of the law.
“The primary thrust of the argument is that those who live in particular should have a say in how it’s governed,” said Ketcham. “It fundamentally considers different levels of political community.”
Issues with implementing the noncitizens law crop up with the 30-day residency rule, language barriers among voters, voter education, inadequacies with the Board of Election in carrying out ballot delivery, widespread opposition from Democrats and Republicans, and the very real threat or legal risk to noncitizens looking to undergo their naturalization process for U.S. citizenship in the future, said Ketcham.
Furthermore, Ketcham expressed extremely low confidence in the BOE’s financing or ability to take on an additional voting initiative of that size flawlessly. “The BOE is an organization that has really botched several elections even within the last decade,” said Ketcham. “Last week’s primary they were not immune to mishap.”
He also suggested that there may be an incredibly low turnout among noncitizen voters regardless.
Nevertheless, Speaker Adams, Hanif, and local immigration rights groups vowed to give city residents more government representation and would review the ruling.
“During the pandemic no one asked me if I had citizenship when I was out there providing PPE, COVID vaccines and information on COVID,” said Emili Prado, a Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals (DACA) recipient from the La Colmena organization on Staten Island.
“Many Dreamers, like myself, care about this country and this city and we just want to be able to have a voice in the municipal elections that affect our everyday lives. This is why without fear, I say I am one of the intervenors against the Republican lawsuit and I am ready to take this fight not only in the streets but in the courtrooms as well,” continued Prado.
Yesenia Mata, executive director of La Colmena, said that immigrant New Yorkers were on the frontlines during the pandemic and they deserve to vote. Mata said that the noncitizens voting law had already been implemented in other states, indicating that a “diverse” city like New York City was behind. “We are not surprised to get this verdict from the Staten Island lower courts, but we know that we will win the appeal. This law will change the lives of many New Yorkers and move Staten Island to a welcoming borough for all,” said Mata.
Mayor Eric Adams didn’t technically sign the noncitizen voting law but waited the 30 days for it to automatically become a law. Adams did support the law as a mayoral candidate.
“We are disappointed by the court’s ruling,” said Jonah Allon of the mayor’s office. “The noncitizen voting law would bring thousands more New Yorkers into the democratic process, and give them a true voice in determining their future and the future of their communities. Our Law Department is evaluating next steps.”
Ariama C. Long is a Report for America corps member and writes about culture and politics in New York City for The Amsterdam News. Your donation to match our RFA grant helps keep her writing stories like this one; please consider making a tax-deductible gift of any amount today by visiting: https://tinyurl.com/fcszwj8w