New York will be the first major US city to endow widespread voting rights to non-citizens and ”Dreamers”, allowing them to vote in the 2023 municipal elections for the first time.
More than 800,000 non-citizens and “Dreamers” in New York City will have access to the ballot box and could vote in municipal elections as early as next year.
NYC Mayor Eric Adams allowed the new legislation to automatically become law on Sunday.
“I believe that New Yorkers should have a say in their government, which is why I have and will continue to support this important legislation,” Adams said in a statement released on Saturday night.
Non-citizens who have been lawful permanent residents of the city for at least 30 days, as well as those authorised to work in the US, will be able to help select the city’s mayor, city council members, borough presidents, comptroller and public advocate.
The first elections in which non-citizens would be allowed to vote are in 2023.
It’s a watershed moment for the nation’s most populous city, where legally documented, voting-age non-citizens comprise nearly one in nine of the city’s 7 million voting-age inhabitants.
“Dreamers” are young immigrants brought to the US illegally as children who would benefit from the never-passed DREAM Act or the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals program, which allows them to remain in the country if they meet certain criteria.
“We build a stronger democracy when we include the voices of immigrants,” said former City Council member Ydanis Rodriguez, who led the charge to win approval for the legislation.
Rodriguez, who Adams appointed as his transportation commissioner, thanked the mayor for his support and expects a vigorous defence against any legal challenges.
Adams said he looked forward to the law bringing millions more into the democratic process.
Backlash from opponents
The Board of Elections may begin drawing an implementation plan by July, including voter registration rules and provisions that would create separate ballots for municipal races to prevent non-citizens from casting ballots in federal and state contests.
Opponents have vowed to challenge the new law, which the City Council approved a month ago.
They say the council lacks the authority on its own to grant voting rights to non-citizens and should have first sought action by state lawmakers.
Some states, including Alabama, Arizona, Colorado and Florida, have adopted rules that would preempt any attempts to pass laws like the one in New York City.