Earlier this month, New York City made history by enfranchising an estimated 800,000 noncitizen New Yorkers, giving them the right to vote in municipal elections. But, in a move that the law’s supporters widely anticipated, the Republican National Committee – along with a band of local opponents to the measure – sued the city last week in Staten Island’s Supreme Court with the aim of getting the law declared unconstitutional.

The measure grants New Yorkers who are legally allowed to work and live in the city but are not U.S. citizens the right to vote in municipal elections. This includes voting in the city’s primary and general elections, as well as local elections for positions such as for City Council members and borough presidents. The law does not permit noncitizen permanent residents to vote in state or federal elections.

The primary legal hurdle for the noncitizen voting law is to prove that the measure does not violate Article II, Section I of New York State’s constitution, as well as Article V of the States Election Laws.

The lawsuit filed by the RNC claims the noncitizen voting law has violated these statutes.

“We believe the state constitution provides a floor, not a ceiling,” said Nora Moran, the director of policy and advocacy at United Neighborhood Houses, a community organization that has been working to pass the bill since as early as 2004. “The state constitution doesn’t preclude New York City or any locality from setting extra or different parameters around voting in their county.”

Our City, Our Vote, rally.
Image provided by United Neighborhood Houses

In a statement sent to Bushwick Daily by the New York Immigration Coalition (NYIC) – an organization that has been a prominent supporter of the new measure – the opposition against the lawsuit extended further, pointing at what the organization considers to be broader issues with those filing the complaint. 

“Unable to gain popular backing for their blatant efforts to suppress and deny certain New Yorkers the right to vote, the Republicans have taken their obviously anti-immigrant and racist agenda to the courts,” said Murad Awawdeh, Executive Director of the NYIC.

Awawdeh claimed the lawsuit was baseless and slammed the Republicans filing the complaint, saying they were members of a party that has not accepted the result of the 2020 election nor acknowledged its role in the Jan. 6 Capitol riots. 

“The Our City, Our Vote law ensures that NYC has the most inclusive democracy in the entire nation by allowing New Yorkers who live here, raise children here and give back to our neighborhoods in countless ways can have a say in the direction of our city,” said Awawdeh.

Opposition to the law has not only come in the form of lawsuits.

Former NYC Mayor Michael Bloomberg criticized the law in an op-ed, saying that its biggest problem is the way it devalues citizenship.

“Voting is a major reason many immigrants seek to obtain citizenship,” Bloomberg wrote. “If cities want more immigrants to become citizens – as they should – stripping away that incentive won’t help.”

“We don’t think that this would discourage people from applying for citizenship,” said Moran, pointing to the fact that citizenship comes with a wide array of benefits that extend beyond the ability to vote in local elections. “Citizenship also provides a level of permanency for individuals and their families. That, obviously, is necessary for a lot of folks.”

Moran added that a significant justification for the noncitizen voting law is the time it takes to become a citizen.

“It’s a very lengthy process, it takes a lot of time,” said Moran. “If there’s something that we can do right now, to help those folks that are waiting and are in the pipeline to be more engaged in their neighborhoods, of course we should take that stab.”

For green card holders – those allowed to live and work permanently in the United States – the wait takes five years, given no special circumstance, for the naturalization process to begin. According to the New York Times, the naturalization process itself has doubled in time due to a backlog of cases.

While prominent Democrats, including New York’s Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez and Chuck Schumer, have not commented on the legislation, Moran believes the reception in New York reflects the widespread support for the law.

“The reception of it with the folks who really had a say over it – our local leaders, our local electeds, and local stakeholders – was overwhelmingly positive,” said Moran, adding that silence from national figures was not the focus of their campaign. “Our efforts were really focused on making sure that all the people who, in New York City, had a say over this and had some role to play were up to speed and engaged.”

The lawsuit is directed at Eric Adams in his official capacity as mayor, The Board of Elections in the City of New York and The City Council of the City of New York. While Adams initially expressed skepticism regarding the law, specifically regarding concerns that the law’s 30-day minimum residency clause was too short, he later said he supported the law.

During CNN’s “State of the Union,” Adams told Jake Tapper: “After hearing their rationale and their theories behind it, I thought it was more important to not veto the bill, or get in the way at all.”

“We’ve seen strong support from Mayor Adams,” said Moran. “It will be up to him to defend it in court, but we feel confident it will hold.”

Featured photo: Courtesy of United Neighborhood Houses.

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