Immigrants and the vote: A well-intentioned City Council bill has some problems

·2 min read

Our permanent resident friends and neighbors are New Yorkers, full stop. They work essential (and nonessential) jobs, send their kids to public schools, call on the police and are policed, and pay our hefty city taxes. They should have a say in selecting who runs our government.

To those who argue giving legal residents the franchise cheapens the idea of citizenship or disincentivizes naturalization, we say that expanding democratic participation will instead strengthen our civic fabric — and likely whet the group’s appetite for more voting at the state and federal level, which can only happen by first reaching for the brass ring of becoming a full-fledged citizen.

Unfortunately, there’s the idea and then there’s the reality, and the noncitizen voting proposal currently kicking around the City Council has to contend with a small thing called the state Constitution. Per Article II, Section 1, “Every citizen shall be entitled to vote at every election for all officers elected by the people.” The language is ambiguous — it doesn’t explicitly say non-citizens are barred from voting — but we’d call the constitutionality of the Council measure tenuous.

The bill’s title speaks of “allowing permanent residents in New York City to vote in municipal elections,” but the text goes further, extending the right to any holder of U.S. work authorization who resides in the city longer than 30 days. This includes not only longtime work visa holders and those with Temporary Protected Status and DACA, but also potentially students and temporary workers who might be leaving the country within months. As a result, the city would let people who are barred by federal and state law from contributing to campaigns cast ballots in elections. We’d rather start with permanent residents.

Finally, in charge of this overhaul of the voter rolls would be the city’s laughably dysfunctional Board of Elections, an agency notorious for bungling elections with just one set of rolls. No one should accept at face value their assertions that they’d smoothly handle a second.

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