For decades, lawmakers and immigrant advocates in New York City have pushed for legislation that would allow legal residents who are not citizens to vote in municipal elections, a right they had in school board elections until the boards were abolished in the early 2000s.
Now city lawmakers are moving to make noncitizen voting a reality — over the objections of Mayor Bill de Blasio.
The City Council is planning to approve a bill that would allow more than 800,000 noncitizen New Yorkers to register as members of political parties and vote in municipal elections, provided they are green card holders or have the right to work in the United States.
The measure is expected to be approved on Dec. 9 by a veto-proof margin. It would allow noncitizens to vote in local elections, and would not apply to federal or state contests. But the measure raises longstanding questions about who should be allowed to participate in the country’s democratic process.
Supporters maintain that immigrants who reside in the city legally, pay taxes, send their children to public schools and rely on city services should have some say in who becomes mayor or represents them on the City Council.
Opponents say the bill would weaken the voting rights of citizens and discourage immigrants from trying to become citizens.
Mr. de Blasio, speaking at a news conference on Tuesday, said he would not veto the legislation. But he expressed concern that the bill would undermine the “value of citizenship” if it dissuaded residents from seeking it. Mr. de Blasio, a Democrat, also said he believes only the State Legislature can grant noncitizens the right to vote — a view many experts dispute.
A leading opponent, Joseph Borelli, a Republican councilman who represents Staten Island, went further, saying the bill would “weaken” citizens’ votes.
“Someone who has lived here for 30 days will have a say in how we raise our taxes, our debt and long-term pension liabilities,” he said. “These are things people who are temporary residents should not have a say in.”
On the other side of the issue, several towns in Maryland and Vermont already grant noncitizens some municipal voting rights, and noncitizens can vote in school board elections in San Francisco. Other municipalities in California, Maine, Illinois and Massachusetts are weighing similar legislation.
The latest iteration of the New York City bill also extends the vote to people with work authorization, such as the so-called Dreamers — immigrants who were brought into the country illegally as children but have been allowed to live and work here through a federal program known as DACA.
Of the estimated 808,000 adult New Yorkers who are lawful permanent residents, or green card holders, or have work authorization, about 130,000 are from the Dominican Republic; another 117,500 are from China, according to the Mayor’s Office of Immigrant Affairs. The bill requires that immigrants be residents of New York City for 30 days and otherwise eligible to vote under state law.
In spite of having a veto-proof majority of 34 out of 51 City Council members and the public advocate as co-sponsors, the legislation has not moved forward until now partly because of concerns about its legality.
But the Council’s legal staff determined that no federal or state law bars New York City from expanding the right to vote in local elections, though it also concluded that the bill might be vulnerable to challenge.
Eric Adams, the mayor-elect, has said that green card holders should have the right to participate in local elections and even urged the passage of the City Council legislation. But he has questioned whether the Council has the power to grant noncitizens the vote.