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NYC law that would let noncitizens vote struck down in right-wing challenge

A Staten Island judge sided with Republican officials Monday in blocking legislation that would have given ballots to as many as 900,000 immigrants in New York City who don't have U.S. citizenship.

STATEN ISLAND, N.Y. (CN) — New York City broke the law in trying to let more than 800,000 noncitizens vote in municipal elections, a judge ruled Monday, siding with Republicans who brought a lawsuit in the city's most conservative borough.

The ruling from Richmond County State Supreme Court Ralph Porzio, himself a Republican, strikes down a bill that city lawmakers that would give noncitizens the power to register with state political parties and vote in city elections even if they are not U.S. citizens, so long as they hold a green card or are authorized to work in the country.

“There is no statutory ability for the City of New York to issue inconsistent laws permitting noncitizens to vote and exceed the authority granted to it by the New York State Constitution,” Porzio wrote, tossing out the bill on summary judgment.

Iterations of the bill called Our City, Our Vote, have been around for over a decade but finally passed the Democrat-led City Council last year in a round sponsored by then-Councilman Ydanis Rodriguez of Washington Heights, an immigrant from the Dominican Republic who is now commissioner of transportation under Mayor Eric Adams.

The law would not have affected presidential, congressional or state elections, but teed up more than 800,000 so-called Dreamers and other noncitizens to vote in New York City municipal elections as early as next year. The bill’s supporters said it gave an electoral voice to many taxpaying New Yorkers who have made a home here but face obstacles to citizenship.

More than a dozen Republican voters and elected officials responded to the bill's passage by filing suit, calling the law unconstitutional. Staten Island Borough President Vito Fossella, a Republican endorsed by former President Donald Trump, led the challenge on behalf of a group that also included freshman New York Congresswoman Nicole Malliotakis.

Fossella applauded the ruling on Monday afternoon as a “victory for every citizen of our borough and city.”

“We knew from day one that the New York State Constitution prohibits noncitizens from voting in our municipal elections,” he wrote in a statement. “Whether it was one million or one noncitizen who would have been granted the right to vote — it was wrong. It would have diluted the votes of our own citizens, and begs the question: why should citizens from other countries be allowed to vote in our local municipal elections?”

Cornelius D. Murray, the Albany-based lawyer who represented the bill’s opponents, told Courthouse News on Monday that he is “pleased that the court did not read into the Constitution words that are not there.”

“It is up to the People of the State to amend the Constitution if they so desire by following the procedures set forth in Article XIX of the State Constitution,” the lawyer for Fossella and the others said. “The City Council tried to make an end run around the Constitution by asking a Court to find a loophole that does not exist.”

Representatives for the city’s legal department did not immediately respond to requests for comment on Monday afternoon.

Malliotakis, the daughter of Greek and Cuban immigrants, called the legislation a “shameful attempt to dilute the voices of American citizens by allowing non-citizens to vote.”

“The government should be working to create more trust in our elections, not less,” she wrote on Twitter shortly after Monday’s ruling came down.

The law gave municipal voting rights to noncitizens who have been lawful permanent residents of the city for at least 30 days but also to the class of immigrants who entered the United States illegally as children and have conditional protection from deportation under programs derived from never-passed legislation called the DREAM Act.

Democratic New York City Council member Kalman Yeger — whose South Brooklyn district includes all or parts of the Bensonhurst, Borough Park, Gravesend, Kensington and Midwood neighborhoods — broke ties with his party’s most prominent voices to raise concerns about the legislation.

Yeger on Monday celebrated the judge’s finding that Our City, Our Vote, was unconstitutional. “This law was unconstitutional from the start, and even those who voted for it knew this,” he tweeted. “Only Albany can change this. Not the Council. That's why I voted against it last year.”

New York City Public Advocate Jumaane Williams, who co-sponsored the legislation, called for an immediate appeal of Judge Porzio's ruling, which he predicted will disenfranchise hundreds of thousands of permanent New York City residents from having a voice in the city’s political process.

"Federal citizenship should not be a prerequisite to participate in local democracy — as recently as 2002, noncitizens voted in school board elections,” Williams said Monday afternoon. “In NYC, this court ruling will silence the people and communities that are often most impacted by the decisions of those in power.”

Legally documented, voting-age noncitizens represent nearly 1 in 9 of New York City’s 7 million voting-age inhabitants.  

According to city officials, New York City is home to about 622,000 lawful permanent residents (green card holders) who are currently eligible to become U.S. citizens through naturalization but have not yet done so.

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