NYC Lawmakers Want to Let Non-Citizens Vote in Local Elections

By Petr Svab
Petr Svab
Petr Svab
Petr Svab is a reporter covering New York. Previously, he covered national topics including politics, economy, education, and law enforcement.
September 22, 2021 Updated: September 22, 2021

A supermajority of the New York City Council has backed a bill that would allow non-citizens who at least have a work permit to vote in the city’s local elections. Yet the state constitution says only citizens can vote.

Despite being advised of its illegality, the bill’s sponsor is determined to push it forward.

The bill was introduced early last year by Councilman Ydanis Rodriguez. It finally got a committee hearing on Monday. The Committee on Governmental Operations adjourned acting on it, which often signifies a bill’s death. But Rodriguez has managed to get 35 of his colleagues to sponsor the bill. That would give it a veto-proof supermajority in the 51-member council. The committee may still pick the bill up.

“This is not about a favor, this is about no taxation without representation,” Rodriguez said during the hearing. He framed the bill as a continuation of previous expansions of voting rights, noting that only non-black men who owned land used to be allowed to vote in America before the franchise was expanded to landless men, blacks, and women.

“If people have a problem with this, then they should move to another town or another country that has not been built by immigrants,” he said.

Rodriguez, himself an immigrant from the Dominican Republic, acknowledged that his efforts to have the bill passed have been repeatedly rebuked by city lawyers who found it illegal.

“Can you go through a lawsuit?” he said. “Probably. Because we also have right-wing individuals in the City of New York who always become an obstacle when we want to move the immigrant rights agenda in the city.”

He called on Council Speaker Cory Johnson to back the bill—an important sponsorship the bill lacks.

On its face, the bill wouldn’t cover illegal aliens, who aren’t allowed to work in the U.S. Yet most of the people illegally crossing the southern border in recent year give themselves up to the border authorities and apply for asylum. If they pass the initial screening, they are released inside the country and allowed to get a work permit until the immigration courts resolve their cases. That often takes years.

As such, fraudulent asylum applicants who will eventually get slated for deportation would be free to come to New York City for a month and then vote for mayor, city council, city comptroller, public advocate, and borough president.

Mayor Bill de Blasio recently gave the bill a cold shoulder, saying the City Hall lawyers are “very clear” the policy is illegal.

Rodriguez pointed out that about a dozen municipalities in other states have allowed non-citizens to vote without much of a problem. No large municipality, however, has adopted such a policy, much less one of America’s largest cities where elected officials control a nearly $100 billion budget.

Some council members spoke against the bill.

Kalman Yeger, a Democrat representing several neighborhoods in central Brooklyn, said the city council doesn’t have the authority to make such a policy.

“We can pass this if we want to … but the question is whether or not it will become law. It will not because it will be promptly thrown out,” he said during the hearing.

He called on the state legislators to amend the constitution. He also urged the city to pay fees for Green Card holders who don’t have the money to apply for citizenship.

Mayoral frontrunner Eric Adams, currently Brooklyn borough president, has backed the bill.

Petr Svab
Petr Svab is a reporter covering New York. Previously, he covered national topics including politics, economy, education, and law enforcement.