New York Judge Strikes Down Law Allowing Noncitizens to Vote in Local Elections

New York Judge Strikes Down Law Allowing Noncitizens to Vote in Local Elections
People vote during the Primary Election Day at P.S. 249 The Caton School in the Flatbush neighborhood of Brooklyn borough in New York on June 22, 2021. (Michael M. Santiago/Getty Images)
Bill Pan

A New York Supreme Court judge ruled on June 27 that a recently passed New York City law that extends voting rights in municipal elections to noncitizens is unconstitutional.

In December 2021, the New York City Council passed the "Our City, Our Vote" measure in a 33–14 vote. It was signed into law by then-Mayor Bill de Blasio and took effect in January, allowing foreign nationals who legally reside and work in the city to register to vote at the municipal level. The law doesn't apply to state or federal elections.

The measure effectively created more than 800,000 new voters who would have been able to cast ballots in next year's city council election.

A coalition of mostly Republican voters and elected officials challenged the law in court shortly after its enactment. Staten Island Borough President Vito Fossella, a Republican endorsed by former President Donald Trump, argued in the complaint that the law is in conflict with New York state's own constitution.

The case was heard earlier this month by state Supreme Court Justice Ralph Porzio. In his June 27 ruling, Porzio sided with the plaintiffs, stressing that U.S. citizenship is a prerequisite to being able to vote in New York.

"The New York State Constitution expressly states that citizens meeting the age and residency requirements are entitled to register and vote in elections," Porzio wrote, emphasizing the word "citizens."

"Though voting is a right so many citizens take for granted, the City of New York cannot obviate the restrictions imposed by the Constitution."

In the complaint, the plaintiffs argued that the law would "dilute" the power of citizens' votes and force elected officials to change the way they campaign and could possibly hurt their chances of winning future elections. Porzio found these arguments plausible.

"The weight of the citizens' vote will be diluted by municipal voters and candidates and political parties alike will need to reconfigure their campaigns," the justice wrote. "Though Plaintiffs have not suffered harm today, the harm they will suffer is imminent."

New York City Council Minority Leader Joseph Borelli, a Republican representing Staten Island's South Shore, applauded the ruling.

"Today's decision validates those of us who can read the plain English words of our state constitution and state statutes: Noncitizen voting in New York is illegal, and shame on those who thought they could skirt the law for political gain," he said in a statement.

"Opposition to this measure was bipartisan and cut across countless neighborhood and ethnic lines, yet progressives chose to ignore both our constitution and public sentiment in order to suit their aims. I commend the court in recognizing reality and reminding New York’s professional protestor class that the rule of law matters."