Adams admin ‘evaluating next steps’ after NYC noncitizen voting bill ruled unconstitutional by state court

Voting in Queens
An early voting site at the Museum of the Moving Image in Queens.
File photo/Gabriele Holtermann

The Adams administration is mulling its next steps on noncitizen voting in New York City after a state appeals court on Wednesday ruled that the plan violates the state Constitution.

Paul Wooten, an associate justice of the Appellate Division for the state’s Second Judicial Department, upheld a 2022 decision by a Richmond County Supreme Court judge striking down the law. The appeals court weighed in on the case following an appeal from Mayor Eric Adams’ administration; it’s not clear whether Adams would pursue another appeal.

“We determine that this local law was enacted in violation of the New York State Constitution and Municipal Home Rule Law, and thus, must be declared null and void,” Wooten wrote, in the ruling.

Specifically, Wooten led a three-to-one ruling siding with the lower court in determining that when the state Constitution says “every citizen shall be entitled to vote at every election for all officers elected by the people,” it is only referring to US citizens and does not include non-citizens. Furthermore, they found the City Council’s passage of non-citizen voting violated the Home Rule Law, because it stipulates that local elections can only be changed through ballot referendums.

City Law Department spokesperson Nicholas Paolucci, in a statement, said the city is “reviewing the court’s decision and evaluating next steps.”

The measure, dubbed “Our City, Our Vote,” was passed by the City Council in late 2021, and became law after both former Mayor Bill de Blasio and current Mayor Adams declined to sign or veto it. 

The law allows all non-citizens, which covers green card holders and those with authorization to work in the US who have lived in the city for at least 30 days, to participate in municipal elections for mayor, public advocate, comptroller, borough president and City Council. At the time it was passed, the law gave an estimated 800,000 non-citizens the right to vote in local contests.

Congresswoman Nicole Malliotakis, an opponent of noncitizen voting
Congress Member Nicole Malliotakis speaks at a press conference in August 2023 denouncing plans to use Fort Wadsworth as a migrant shelter.Photo by Paul Frangipane

A group of mostly Republican lawmakers quickly challenged the bill — including City Council Minority Leader Joe Borelli, Staten Island Borough President Vito Fossella and US Rep. Nicole Malliotakis (Staten Island/Brooklyn).

“Great news! We won in the appellate court and [Mayor Adams’] attempt to implement the law to register noncitizens to vote in NYC elections has been struck down,” Malliotakis posted to X on Wednesday afternoon. “This is a big victory in preserving both the integrity of our elections & the voice of American citizens!”

In addition to arguing that the measure was unconstitutional, the plaintiffs also charged it would dramatically change the makeup of the city’s electorate and the way Republicans in particular campaign for public office.

But immigrant advocates blasted Wednesday’s ruling. Murad Awawdeh, executive director of the New York Immigration Coalition, contended it will disenfranchise hundreds of thousands of city residents. 

“While we are still reviewing the decision and its impact on immigrant New Yorkers, the lawsuit remains another shameful attempt by xenophobic Republicans who would disenfranchise residents rather than promote a more inclusive and participatory democracy,” Awawdeh said, in a Wednesday statement. “Immigrant New Yorkers deserve a say in how their local government functions and spends their tax money, and we remain committed to ensuring the expansion of voting rights.”