New York Considers Allowing Non-Citizens to Vote

The City of New York is considering legislation to allow non-citizens to vote in municipal elections.

The left-leaning New York City council is currently drafting legislation that would allow all legal residents, regardless of citizenship, the right to vote in city elections. If the measure passes into law, it would mark a major victory for a voting rights campaign that seeks to enfranchise non-citizen voters in local elections across the country. A few towns already permit non-citizen residents to vote locally, but New York City would be by far the largest jurisdiction to do so.

Under the likely terms of the legislation, legally documented residents who have lived in New York City for at least six months will be able to vote in municipal elections. Reports suggest that the city council is discussing the legislation with Mayor Bill de Blasio’s office, and that a bill might be introduced as soon as this spring.

Non-citizens have voted in local school board elections in New York for years.  However, granting full voting rights to non-citizens for all city elections would be a new development.

In the immigrant-heavy borough of Queens, non-citizens make up as much as half of the population in areas like Jackson Heights, Elmhurst and Corona. In parts of Brooklyn and the Bronx, they make up well over a third of certain districts. “It’s very different in New York than in middle America,” said Jerry Vattamala, a staff attorney at the Asian American Legal Defense and Education Fund.

The vast majority of the New York Council supports allowing non-citizens to vote.  Opposition from former mayor Mike Bloomberg was the only reason a non-citizens voting ordinance was stopped. Now, new mayor Bill deBlasio fully supports non-citizen voters.

Opposition is rooted only in small areas of Staten Island.

Peter Schuck, an emeritus professor of law at Yale University, also worries about the dilution of citizenship. “My guess is that it would cause many Americans to wonder what the point of citizenship is if anyone can vote without even bothering to learn or be committed enough to apply for naturalization,” he said via email.