Hundreds of thousands of people are newly eligible to vote in New York City elections thanks to a new law extending voting rights to certain non-U.S. citizens. If all goes according to plan and threatened legal challenges fail, these newly enfranchised voters can start participating in elections in 2023. Their voting rights would apply only to New York City elections, not federal or state ones. At a time when some states are applying new restrictions on voting, New York City becomes the largest U.S. city to allow noncitizens to vote in certain elections, joining San Francisco as well as jurisdictions in Maryland and Vermont.
1. Who is affected by the law?
It applies to holders of so-called green cards -- noncitizens allowed to live and work permanently in the U.S. It also covers people who are temporarily authorized to work in the country; included in that group are young people who were children when they were brought to the U.S. as undocumented immigrants, have lived in America much or most of their lives and have received renewable two-year work permits through a program called Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals. (This group is sometimes known as “Dreamers.”) The only other requirement is that prospective new voters must have resided in the city for 30 or more days prior to an election.
2. What elections can they vote in?
Once registered, they will be able to vote in municipal elections for positions such as mayor, comptroller, public advocate, city council and the presidents of the five New York City boroughs, as well as on ballot initiatives.
3. How many new voters could this enfranchise?
Of New York City’s 3 million immigrants, roughly 1.3 million haven’t been able to vote because they are not naturalized citizens. Of those, some 476,000 lack proper documentation to be in the U.S., and that group will remain ineligible to vote. That leaves roughly 800,000 people who may gain the ability to vote due to the new law.
4. How quickly will this be implemented?
City elections in 2022 wouldn’t be affected. The New York City Board of Elections has until July to create an implementation plan, according to the Associated Press. This includes creating voter registration protocols for noncitizens as well as municipal-specific ballots so that noncitizens do not vote for state or federal measures or positions. Noncitizens would be able to register to vote in December and could cast their first ballot in the election scheduled for Jan. 9, 2023.
5. What hurdles does the law face?
Staten Island Borough President Vito Fossella has said he will challenge it in court. Extending the vote to noncitizens, he said, “is unconstitutional and simultaneously dilutes the votes of and devalues what it means to be a citizen.” Some opposition to the law centered on the 30-day residency requirement being too short. On a more practical level, the law’s efficacy may depend in part on outreach efforts so that noncitizens are aware of their voting rights, as well as language translation services to support voting access. Federal law mandates that the city supply translation services in Bengali, Chinese, Korean and Spanish. Under Mayor Bill de Blasio, who left office at the start of January, the city also provided translation services for those who speak Haitian Creole, Polish, Russian and Yiddish.
6. Where else can noncitizens vote?
Eleven towns in Maryland and two towns in Vermont allow some noncitizens to vote in municipal elections, and San Francisco in 2023 will allow some noncitizens to vote in school board elections. New York previously allowed some noncitizens to vote in school board elections, though that was abolished in 2002. Former City Councilmember Ydanis Rodríguez, who first proposed the new law in 2020, said New York could become “a role model not only to other cities in the state of New York, but to the whole country, especially those that have been on the attack when it comes to voting rights in the Midwest and the South.” At least 19 states in 2021 passed legislation that restricted voting in some way, according to the Brennan Center for Justice.
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