Richmond County judge tosses city’s non-citizen voting law after GOP suit

Non-citizen voting law
(Photo by Gabriele Holtermann)

Richmond County Supreme Court Judge Ralph Porzio struck down the city’s seven-month old law allowing legal non-citizens to vote in municipal elections Monday, saying it violates the state constitution.

The suit was brought by a group of Republican lawmakers led by Staten Island Borough President Vito Fossella, who argued the law would mean they’d have to change the way they campaign. Other Staten Island Republican plaintiffs in the suit included Congress Member Nicole Malliotakis, Council Minority Leader Joe Borelli and Council Member David Carr.

In a statement, Malliotakis celebrated the ruling, casting it as a victory “for preserving the integrity and security of our elections.”

“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,” Malliotakis said. “The government should be working to create more trust in our elections, not less.”

Borelli – who voted against Our City, Our Vote in December – said this ruling is affirmation to a bipartisan and multiethnic group of New Yorkers who opposed the law.

“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 skirt the law for political gain,” Borelli said. “Opposition to this measure was bipartisan and cut across numerous neighborhood and ethnic lines, yet progressives chose to ignore both our constitution and public sentiment in order to suit their aims. I commend the court in recognizing reality and reminding New York’s professional protester class that the rule of law matters.”

The law dubbed “Our City, Our Vote” granted the city’s roughly 800,000 legal permanent residents – green card holders – and those here on work visas for more than 30 days the right to vote in municipal elections. It was passed by the council late last year and became law in January after a 30-day period, although it wasn’t signed by Mayor Eric Adams or his predecessor Bill de Blasio.

Before the city budget passed, PoliticsNY reported several council members were pushing for Adams to include $25 million of funding in the city spending plan for implementing the non-citizen voting law – including voter outreach and education. The administration didn’t end up meeting that ask in the final $101 billion budget passed earlier this month.

Adams’ office referred PoliticsNY to the city Law Department for a statement on the ruling.

“This is a disappointing court ruling for people who value bringing in thousands more New Yorkers into the democratic process,” said a Law Department spokesman. “We are evaluating next steps.”

According to a published report, in Porzio’s ruling, he sided with plaintiffs and added that Our City, Our Vote also broke New York state election law and the municipal home rule law.

“The New York State Constitution expressly states that citizens meeting the age and residency requirements are entitled to register and vote in elections,” Porzio’s ruling read. 

He wrote that the state’s election law says this right is only granted to citizens and New York City was exceeding its authority as a municipality by trying to extend the right to non-citizens.

While Republicans unanimously applauded the court ruling, the council’s progressives saw it as a major set back to expanding voting rights. In a statement, Council Member Shahana Hanif (D – Brooklyn) said the decision makes this a “dark day for democracy in New York City.”

“While Republican legislatures across the country have restricted the right to vote, our City fought to expand this important right,” Hanif said. “But today is a disappointing setback. While the courts may follow outdated and xenophobic precedent ingrained in the very fabric of our constitution, we know that our immigrant neighbors deserve a voice in our democracy. They are just as much a part of our city as each and every one of us and their exclusion from voting is yet another form of racist gerrymandering. This decision is a setback to our vision of a free and open society, but it is not the end. We will continue to fight for all New Yorkers.”