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New York City has granted hundreds of thousands of US employment-based visa (green card) holders and so-called Dreamers the right to vote in local elections in a landmark move. Republicans are now attempting to sue to block such rights for non-US citizens. If legal challenges fail, New York will become the largest US city to allow non-citizens to vote.
New York will join cities such as San Francisco, Maryland and Vermont in allowing some US visa holders to vote in certain elections. The new voting rights will apply to non-citizens who live and work in the US permanently on green cards and people who are working in the US temporarily.
Included in the ‘temporary immigrant’ group are young people who were brought to the US as children as undocumented immigrants (Dreamers), but have lived in the US for most of their lives and have been granted renewable, two-year work permits through the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals (DACA) program.
Reside within New York
The only other stipulation for voting is that non-citizens must have resided in New York for 30 days or more prior to an election. Once a non-US citizen is registered, they will be eligible to vote in municipal elections such as mayoral, comptroller, public advocate, city council and the presidents of the five New York City boroughs, plus any ballot initiatives.
Currently, out of New York’s immigrant population of 3 million, approximately 1.3 million have been unable to vote because they are not ‘naturalized’ citizens. Meanwhile, 476,000 of the 1.3 million don’t have the proper paperwork to be in the US, which means they still won’t have voting rights.
Under the new law, approximately 800,000 may be granted the right to vote. According to the Associated Press, US green card holders and DACA beneficiaries would be able to register to vote in certain elections by the end of 2022, while the New York City Board of Elections has been given until July 2022 to create an implementation plan.
The implantation plan will include the creation of voter registration protocols for non-US citizens, plus municipal specific ballots so that green card holders and DACA beneficiaries are restricted from voting on state or federal measures or positions.
Register to vote
It’s understood that non-US citizens would be able to register to vote in December 2022 and could cast their first ballot in a New York election scheduled for January 9, 2023.
However, granting non-US citizens in New York the right to vote is set to face a strong backlash. Staten Island Borough President, Vito Fossella, has already said that he will challenge the plans.
Mr Fossella said: “Extending the vote to noncitizens is unconstitutional and simultaneously dilutes the votes of and devalues what it means to be a citizen.”
Much of the opposition to the plans centers around the 30-day residency requirement being too short. Meanwhile, on a more practical level, a report by Bloomberg states that ‘the law’s efficacy may depend in part on outreach efforts so that non-US citizens are aware of their voting rights along with translation services being made available to support voting access’.
Federal law states that New York City must provide translation services in Bengali, Chinese, Korean and Spanish. Under former city mayor, Bill de Blasio, translation services were provided for people who speak Haitian Creole, Polish, Russian and Yiddish.
Republicans oppose plans
The Republican National Committee (RNC), along with the New York GOP, is now suing current New York City mayor, Eric Adams, and New York City elections officials for allowing every non-citizen to vote.
The RNC claims that the plans are ‘just another way for Democrats to subvert elections’. The group said it is suing to ‘protect the integrity of elections’, adding that it ‘stands ready to do the same wherever Democrats try to attack the basic security of the ballot’.
Texas Republican, Dan Crenshaw, took to Twitter to blast the plans, tweeting: “Foreigners shouldn’t be voting in American elections. You prove your loyalty to our country by becoming a citizen. Then you vote. How is this even up for debate?”
However, former City Council member Ydanis Rodriguez, who spearheaded the campaign to win approval for the legislation, said: “We build a stronger democracy when we include the voices of immigrants.”
Meanwhile, Eric Adams said: “I look forward to the law bringing millions more into the democratic process. 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.”
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