STATEN ISLAND, N.Y. — The New York City Council’s Republican delegation on Wednesday laid out its case against local legislation that would allow some non-citizens to vote in municipal elections, and called for the city Board of Elections (BOE) to not comply with the legislation.
In a letter to the board, the delegation, led by City Council Minority Leader Joe Borelli (R-South Shore), referenced the State Constitution, its election law, and a series of previous cases that they say make the local law a violation of state rules.
“I think our legal standing on this is solid,” Borelli said after their press conference. “Because the state law is so clear the BOE shouldn’t be doing it.”
A spokesperson for the BOE did not respond to a request for comment on their call, but the board’s 10 commissioners and its staff are made up of a bipartisan group appointed by local party leaders.
Under the law, which outgoing Mayor Bill de Blasio has said he intends to let pass, the board needs to figure out how it would administer elections using separate ballots for citizens and the approximate 900,000 non-citizens to whom the law extends the vote.
A report laying out that plan would need to be complete within 30 days of July 1 for elections starting Jan. 9, 2023. If the BOE fails to meet that deadline, they’d be effectively declining to implement the local law, and susceptible to litigation.
“We think that the Republican commissioners will probably hold the line on this,” Borelli said. “It’s a parting gift from the de Blasio administration to not veto this.”
City Council Minority Leader Joe Borelli (R-South Shore), joined by City Council Republicans (from left) David Carr (R-Mid-Island), Joanne Ariola (R-Queens), Vicki Palladino (R-Queens), and Inna Vernikov (R-Brooklyn), speaks during a press conference on the steps of City Hall on Wednesday, Dec. 22, 2021. (Courtesy: City Council Minority Delegation)
De Blasio had long expressed opposition to the bill, primarily sponsored by outgoing City Councilman Ydanis Rodriguez (D-Manhattan), and never gave his explicit support saying it might discourage people from becoming citizens.
Proponents of the bill argue that giving legal permanent residents in the city the right to vote would bring them into the civic process, and create fair representation for people who live and work in the five boroughs.
“Inside these chambers, the New York City Council is making history,” Rodriguez, who’s originally from the Dominican Republic, said when the bill passed. “In one of the most diverse cities in the world, we need to ensure that there is adequate representation to all New Yorkers.”
Borelli said Wednesday that the state constitution is vague in who it allows to vote, but pointed to a section of the state’s election law that specifies “(no) person shall be qualified to register for and vote at any election unless he is a citizen of the United States.”
Some members of the council who ultimately supported the bill also expressed a series of concerns about the effect it could have on the city, including the brevity of the 30-day residency requirement and its effect on the city’s African-American community.
Several members, including outgoing Councilwoman Debi Rose (D-North Shore), said they hoped the next Council would work to address the concerns before the BOE makes its separate ballots.
Staten Island Borough President-elect Vito Fossella has also said he will bring a lawsuit when the mayor signs the bill into law.
In addition to the expected litigation and the work of the next Council, Assemblyman Michael Reilly (R-South Shore) has introduced legislation in his chamber aimed at the local law.
Reilly’s legislation, introduced in another chamber controlled by Democrats, would add to the section of state election law that prohibits certain people from voting, including felons. Those unable to vote in the state would be unable to vote in any New York election even if permitted by a local government.
“Allowing more than 800,000 non-citizens to participate in electing the leaders of America’s largest city not only threatens the integrity of our elections, but also sets a dangerous precedent that challenges the concept of citizenship, as well as the rights and responsibilities afforded to citizens of the United States of America,” he said in a written statement.
Something that all sides agreed on is that the bill would mark the start of a seismic shift across the nation on who has access to the ballot.
Rodriguez, who was a green card holder from 1983 to 2000 before earning his citizenship, said the he’d use the law as an example to states around the nation who have been trying to make voting more difficult.
“Many other cities across the nation, as well as abroad, are watching this,” he said.
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