NEW YORK — More than 800,000 non-citizens and “dreamers” in New York City will have access to the polls — and can vote in municipal elections early next year — after Mayor Eric Adams allowed the legislation to become law automatically on Sunday.
Opponents vowed to challenge the new law, which the city council approved a month ago. Unless a judge stops its enforcement, New York City is the first major American city to grant extensive municipal voting rights to non-citizens.
More than a dozen communities across the United States already allow non-citizens to vote in local elections, including 11 cities in Maryland and two in Vermont.
Non-citizens still cannot vote for president or members of Congress in federal races, or in state elections that choose the governor, judges, and legislators.
The Board of Elections should now begin drawing up an implementation plan by July, including voter registration rules and provisions that would create separate ballot papers for municipal races to prevent noncitizens from casting votes in federal and state contests.
It’s a watershed moment for the nation’s most populous city, where legally documented non-citizens of voting age make up one in nine of the city’s 7 million residents. The movement to win voting rights for non-citizens prevailed after numerous setbacks.
This measure will allow non-citizens who have been lawful permanent residents of the city for at least 30 days, as well as those authorized to work in the United States, including “Dreamers”, to help select the city’s mayor, city council members, town leaders, and the Comptroller and attorney general.
The first elections in which non-citizens are allowed to vote will be held in 2023.
“We build a stronger democracy when we include the voices of immigrants,” said former city councilor Lidanes Rodriguez, who led the campaign to win approval for the legislation.
Rodriguez, whom Adams appointed as transportation commissioner, thanked the mayor for his support and expects a strong defense against any legal challenges.
Adams recently expressed uncertainty about the legislation when he raised concerns about the one-month residency standard, but later said those concerns did not mean he would veto the bill.
While there was some question whether Adams could stop the bill from becoming law, the 30-day deadline for the mayor to take action expired at midnight.
Adams said he looks forward to bringing millions more into the democratic process.
“I believe that New Yorkers should have a say in their government, which is why I will continue to support this important legislation,” Adams said in a statement released Saturday night. He added that his previous fears faded after what he called the fruitful dialogue with colleagues.
Former Mayor Bill de Blasio had similar concerns but did not move to veto the measure before the city hall was vacated at the end of the year.
Opponents say the council lacks the power of its own to grant voting rights to non-citizens, and has had to first seek action by state legislators.
Some states, including Alabama, Arizona, Colorado and Florida, have adopted rules that would block any attempts to pass laws like those in New York City.