A new law allows an estimated 800,000 noncitizens who reside legally in New York City to vote in future municipal elections. Needless to say, the change is highly controversial — both within and outside the five boroughs.
Even Mayor Eric Adams, who’d once supported the measure, voiced last-minute concerns before letting it take effect. "For a person that’s here for only 30 days to have the substantial determination on who’s going to be your mayor, your comptroller, your public advocate — that’s concerning to me," he said.
Adams' wariness was well-founded. It's a bad idea.
Leftier Democrats pushed the bill as part of the greater cause of defying anti-immigration sentiment — and because it had popular appeal within some, though not all, immigrant neighborhoods. They also cited the fact that until about 100 years ago, noncitizen voting was permitted in New York, and that there are smaller jurisdictions today that allow the practice, such as cities in Vermont, California and Maryland.
Unless the courts throw out the law, permanent residents with green cards and those known as Dreamers who were brought here illegally as children will be allowed to vote for mayor, comptroller, public advocate, borough presidents and City Council members.
The only residency requirement is for 30 days; it can take longer to find a legal parking spot in the city.
The law presents logistical problems for a city election system already full of them. For one, the woebegone Board of Elections must find a way to produce and distribute separate ballots for noncitizens because they still won't be allowed to vote in state or federal elections.
Several Staten Island and Queens elected officials and residents, including foreign-born naturalized citizens, filed a lawsuit Monday spelling out strong objections that many people, if not judges, should find persuasive. It argues that New York's Constitution connects voting to citizenship. One article says "every citizen shall be entitled to vote" if of the right age and residence. Another provides for a system of ascertaining "the citizens who shall be entitled to the right of suffrage."
The city reportedly has some five million active registered voters. Noncitizens could make up 15% of the electorate, and thus "dilute the votes of U.S. citizens," the plaintiffs state.
Beyond its legality, the most salient concern is that noncitizen voting could devalue citizenship by removing one of its lofty rewards, if not obligations.
The right to vote confers the most basic political power in this country. Only U.S. citizens should vote in elections whether federal, state or local. The way to enfranchise equal rights and allegiance is by citizenship — to which permanent residents do have a path after several years.
Contrary to what this law's more sanctimonious supporters might say, there is nothing chauvinistic or exclusionary about trying to preserve the institutions of the republic, especially in a divisive era like this one.
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