STATEN ISLAND, N.Y. — A Staten Island judge struck down a controversial law Monday that would’ve allowed almost one million non-citizens the right to vote in local New York City elections.
Borough President Vito Fossella, who served as lead plaintiff in the lawsuit against the city, said he applauded Supreme Court Justice Ralph Porzio’s decision, but said he expects the case to reach the state’s highest court.
“We think common sense prevailed, reason prevailed, and we believe we had to stand up for the good citizens of Staten Island, New York City, and New York State,” Fossella said. “If we didn’t, I think our citizens’ votes would have been diluted, not to mention the fact that we’ve shown and the judge confirmed it is clearly unconstitutional.”
The legislation, known as Local Law 11, passed last year, and would have added about 900,000 new voters to New York City’s rolls — as estimated by “Our City Our Vote,” a campaign pushing for non-citizen suffrage.
Those 900,000 voters would need to be lawful permanent residents who would have the opportunity to vote in local elections starting Dec. 9 for things like borough president, mayor and City Council.
Fossella and his fellow plaintiffs, most of whom were Staten Island Republicans, brought the lawsuit against the Mayor Eric Adams, the New York City Board of Elections (BOE), and the New York City Council, which passed the law through a change in the city charter.
The Board did not respond to requests for comment by the time of publication, but a city Law Department spokesman said they’re evaluating their next steps.
“This is a disappointing court ruling for people who value bringing in thousands more New Yorkers into the democratic process,” the spokesman said.
City Council Speaker Adrienne Adams and the Council’s Committee on Immigration chair, Shahana Hanif, issued a joint statement expressing disappointment with the ruling, and saying they’re considering next steps.
The Council passed Local Law 11 to enfranchise nearly one million voters, many Black and brown New Yorkers, who live here, pay taxes, and contribute to our city. By providing city residents with a voice in their local government representation, we provide them with an equal stake in the long-term success of our city,” they said.
“Now more than ever, when our rights are being threatened, we need more civic and community engagement, not less.”
‘NO SURPRISE TO US’
The legislation — introduced by former City Councilman Ydanis Rodriguez (D-Manhattan), who now heads the city’s Department of Transportation — required the city BOE to create separate municipal ballots for non-citizens that wouldn’t include the ability to vote in state and federal elections.
City BOE officials needed a plan by July 1 — a deadline opponents called into question earlier this year when the board’s president and secretary sent a letter to the state Board of Elections seeking advice about apparent conflicts between state law and the municipal legislation.
Murad Awawdeh — executive director of the New York Immigration Coalition and a proponent of the legislation — blamed the decision on the friendly court on Staten Island, and said the organizations intends to push for an appeal.
“The decision to overturn Local Law 11 by this lower court in Staten Island comes as no surprise to us, because the Republican opponents to the law specifically placed their lawsuit in a court they knew would be favorable to them,” Awawdeh said.
“In spite of today’s court decision, we will keep fighting to ensure that the nearly one million New Yorkers who are building their lives here and are investing in our communities can have a say in their local democracy.”
While most of the opposition to the legislation came from Republicans, several City Council Democrats voiced trepidations and outright opposition to the legislation when their body debated it at City Hall last year. City Councilman Bob Holden (D-Queens) went as far as joining Fossella’s lawsuit.https://aef8d7047d48f064fee81067a1a3272c.safeframe.googlesyndication.com/safeframe/1-0-38/html/container.html
Reasons for opposition included the brevity of the 30-day residency requirement before a non-citizen could vote and its effect on the African-American community’s already small share of the city’s vote.
Former City Council Majority Leader Laurie Cumbo (D-Brooklyn) backed a motion to delay a Council vote on the bill that would have effectively killed it last year.
“The only thing that many African-American communities have left are their Black representatives and representation,” she said during the debate on the Council floor.
JUDE SAYS LAW VIOLATES STATE CONSTITUTION
In his decision, Porzio echoed legal arguments opponents had made against the legislation, particularly that it was in violation of the state’s Constitution, election law and home rule law.
City Council Minority Leader Joe Borelli (R-South Shore), another plaintiff on the lawsuit, repeatedly referenced a section of the state election law that reads “[no] person shall be qualified to register for and vote at any election unless he is a citizen of the United States.”
“Today’s decision validates those of us who can read the plain English words of our state constitution and state statutes: non-citizen voting in New York is illegal, and shame on those who thought they could skirt the law for political gain,” Borelli said Monday.https://aef8d7047d48f064fee81067a1a3272c.safeframe.googlesyndication.com/safeframe/1-0-38/html/container.html
“Opposition to this measure was bipartisan and cut across countless neighborhood and ethnic lines, yet progressives chose to ignore both our constitution and public sentiment in order to suit their aims.”
Across the country, non-citizens have had varying rights to vote throughout history. In New York City, non-citizen parents had the right to vote in school board elections until 2002, when school boards were disbanded.
Opponents concede that non-citizens could be granted the right to vote, but it would require action on the part of the State Legislature along with a possible statewide referendum.
Assemblyman Mike Reilly (R-South Shore), another plaintiff in the Fossella-led lawsuit, has brought forth opposing legislation that would prevent municipalities from bringing another piece of legislation like Local Law 11.
“As I’ve said before, our federal and state constitutions designate the right to vote in elections to birthright and naturalized citizens only,” he said.
“We cannot and will not allow for the degradation of the rights afforded to us by our constitutions — which is why I will continue to advocate for the passage of my legislation, A8530, to prohibit municipalities in New York State from changing local voting requirements in a manner that supersedes state election law.”
ALL STATEN ISLAND REPUBLICAN ELECTED OFFICIALS WERE PART OF SUIT
All of the Island’s Republican delegation of elected officials signed onto the Fossella-led lawsuit.
City Councilman David Carr (R-Mid-Island) commended Porzio’s decision calling it a “victory for the rule of law” and for New York voters.
“The right to vote is and ought to remain an exclusive right of citizenship,” he said. “It is clear that the noncitizen voting law, which I was proud to vote against last year, was in violation of our state constitution and laws.”
“This Supreme Court decision is a victory for preserving the integrity and security of our elections,” Rep. Nicole Malliotakis (R-Staten Island/South Brooklyn) said.“I stand with the vast majority of New Yorkers who are pleased to see the court strike down Democrats’ 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.”
“As the son of immigrants that came to this country legally and worked tirelessly to become citizens, I consider voting to be a sacred right bestowed on American citizens. The idea that a person can move to New York City and register to vote after 30 days is preposterous and ripe for fraud,” Assemblyman Michael Tannousis (R-Staten Island/Brooklyn) said.
“Political partisans tried to enact a law that was a blatant effort to skirt the constitution and manipulate our democratic process for personal and political gain. I am proud to have been a plaintiff on this lawsuit and I commend the court for reaching the right decision by striking down this terrible law. I will continue to fight for integrity and transparency in our electoral process.”
“This is a great victory for the integrity of our election system,” State Sen. Andrew Lanza (R-South Shore) said “I am grateful for the wisdom of the court which upheld the protections of our constitution and ruled in favor of what we all know to be right and true – which is that only American citizens should vote in American elections.”