Metro

Council OKs bill to give non-citizens the vote in local elections

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A largely lame-duck group of city elected officials is about to saddle New Yorkers with yet another controversial measure that few have clamored for.

The City Council on Thursday approved a measure to allow non-citizen, but legal, Big Apple residents to vote in municipal elections — despite vocal opposition to the “irresponsible” and “dangerous” legislation, a procedural obstacle and threat of a legal challenge.

After an unsuccessful 11th-hour attempt by more than a dozen Democratic and Republican lawmakers to send the legislation back to a committee to be adjusted, the bill passed the 51-member body 33-14 with two abstentions, sending it to Mayor Bill de Blasio’s desk.

The bill, sponsored by Councilman Ydanis Rodríguez, will allow hundreds of thousands of non-citizens to participate in local elections by expanding voting eligibility to green card holders — about 10 percent of the city’s population — and recipients of deferred action.

The legislation does not allow lawful permanent residents or people with authorization to work who aren’t citizens to participate in federal or state elections. People will be required to reside in the five boroughs for at least 30 days to be able to vote.

Councilman Ydanis Rodríguez, the sponsor of the bill, claimed that it "would make our city stronger."
Councilman Ydanis Rodríguez is the sponsor of the bill.
William Farrington

Nearly 800,000 New Yorkers are covered under the legislation, including 622,000 green card holders.

De Blasio, who like a majority if the City Council members, leaves office at the end of the year, has repeatedly expressed reservations about the bill, in part because of “outstanding legal questions” because he thinks the state legislature has the authority to legislate on the matter.

But the mayor recently pledged not to veto it. The measure is sure to face court challenges.

“In 2021, we are writing another chapter,” said Rodríguez (D-Upper Manhattan) during a rally outside City Hall ahead of the vote, “New York City is showing another way to do business when it comes to expanding voting rights.”

“We will make our city stronger, we will have more people participating in our electoral process, we will have even more people to be motivated to be citizens because after they participate at the local level, they will be more interested and engaged and highly motivated to be a citizen so now they can vote at the federal level,” he later explained to The Post.

Mayor Bill de Blasio recently pledged not to veto the controversial bill if passed.
Mayor Bill de Blasio recently pledged not to veto the controversial bill if passed.
Lev Radin/Pacific Press via ZUMA Press Wire

With Thursday afternoon’s vote after nearly two hours of proceedings, the Big Apple will join about 14 US cities including San Francisco in allowing non-citizens to cast ballots in municipal elections.

Under the legislation, permanent non-citizens will be able to participate in City Council, borough president, comptroller and mayoral elections, as well as in ballot initiatives.

“Our city will become the largest municipality in the nation that will allow non-citizens to vote in local elections,” Speaker Corey Johnson, who is also term-limited out of office on Dec. 31, said in the Council Chambers. “New York has been built by immigrants, and we are what we are because of them.”

City Council Speaker Corey Johnson praised the bill saying it would make New York City the  largest municipality in the nation to allow non-citizens to vote.
City Council Speaker Corey Johnson praised the bill saying it would make New York City the largest municipality in the nation to allow non-citizens to vote.
Lev Radin/Sipa USA

Opponents have blasted the “dangerous” legislation, vowing to take it to court.

Councilman Mark Gjonaj — a Democrat who represents parts of The Bronx — proposed a “motion to recommit” that would have sent it back to the governmental operation committee, which could change the bill before a vote. 

The 30-day minimum residency in New York City should be extended to at least a year, because it would permit “transients” to head to the polls, the lawmaker argued.

“Irresponsible would be rubber stamping, irresponsible would be voting on a bill that you’re not completely informed about,” he said, while noting his parents immigrated to the United States from Albania.

Gjonaj also argued it would allow enemies of the United States like Russia and China to influence local elections.

“This bill in its current form doesn’t protect New York City; it makes it vulnerable to outside influence,” he said. “This bill makes the crown jewel of the country vulnerable.”

“It doesn’t take much to … figure out how dangerous this bill is for the future of New York City,” he added. “This bill … is a threat to our sovereignty.”

Councilman Mark Gjonaj claimed that the bill would make the "crown jewel of the country vulnerable" to outside influence.
Councilman Mark Gjonaj claimed that the bill would make the “crown jewel of the country vulnerable” to outside influence.
Paul Martinka

“Thirty days is not enough for someone to decide who’s going to represent the greatest city in the world,” said Councilman Paul Vallone (D-Queens).

City Council Minority Leader Joe Borrelli (R- Staten Island) said the measure is “incorrect and illegal” and “devalues” votes of adult citizen New Yorkers.

“It devalues the votes of 5.6 million current New Yorkers,” he said. “If we have people registered to vote that are allowed to vote per the state constitution, and if we add people who are specifically prohibited to vote per the state constitution, we water down the votes of the 5.6 million. people”

He added that he and other Republicans would challenge the law in court after it goes into effect either by arguing a citizen’s or a candidate’s rights are “infringed” upon by non-citizen voting.

“It’s unconstitutional, under state law. It’s very clear,” said Councilman Kalman Yeger (D- Brooklyn), a conservative Democrat who voiced support for sending the bill back to the committee. “We not not have the legal authority to do this.”

Councilman Kalman Yeger claimed that the bill is unconstitutional.
Councilman Kalman Yeger claimed that the bill is unconstitutional.
Stefan Jeremiah for New York Post

Councilwoman Inna Vernikov (R-Brooklyn), a native of Ukraine, characterized extending voting rights to non-citizens as a “slap in the face” to immigrants who worked hard to earn their citizenship

“To me, in order to be able to cast a vote, you have to have been able to make a commitment to this country,” said newly elected Councilman David Carr (R-Staten Island). “If we’re going to have a serious conversation about what the franchise should be in the city, we should sent it back to committee.”

Councilwoman Laurie Cumbo (D-Brooklyn) had a different reason for wanting to press pause on passing the bill, floating the possibility that black voters’ representation in elected office would be reduced by immigrants from China, the Dominican Republican and Mexico participating in local elections.

Councilwoman Laurie Cumbo questioned how the bill would impact the African American community.
Councilwoman Laurie Cumbo questioned how the bill would impact the African American community.
Paul Martinka

“I need to know … how are African Americans going to be impacted?” Cumbo, who is black and voted no on the bill, wondered. “I want to know specifically how it is going to affect African American communities.”

But Gjonaj’s attempted parliamentary maneuver failed, as opponents argued there isn’t enough time to modify the legislation before the Council term ends at the end of the year. The delay-inducing motion earned 14 yes votes and 35 nos.

“This bill deserves an up or down today,” said Councilman Stephen Levin (D- Brooklyn). “If we were to vote for this amendment, there is no way that we can pass this bill in this term.”

“Voting yes on this amendment is essentially an end around our legislative process, and that’s unacceptable to me.”

With Post wires

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