Black residents in New York filed a lawsuit Monday arguing that the city’s attempt to allow noncitizens to vote in municipal elections is unconstitutional because it was a “racially motivated” move to siphon political power from Black residents to other racial or ethnic minorities.
The lawsuit, filed by the Public Interest Legal Foundation on behalf of four residents, said city council members who wrote the law last year made explicit racial appeals, saying they wanted to change “the color of the skin” of people who were voting in elections.
And that hurts Black voters in particular, because the new noncitizen voters will be heavily Hispanic and Asian, and are expected to dilute the strength of Blacks in a city where voting breaks down along racial lines, the plaintiffs said.
“Elections in New York City are racially polarized. The addition of nearly a million foreign-citizen voters coupled with the existence of racially polarized voting will have a negative impact on the voting strength of Black voters to a significant degree,” the Black city residents said in their lawsuit.
The new lawsuit, filed in U.S. District Court in the Eastern District of New York, joins other ongoing legal challenges to the city’s policy.
A state judge earlier this summer issued a ruling halting the new voting plans, deciding that they ran afoul of the state’s constitution.
At the federal level, there is a prohibition on noncitizens voting in federal elections, but states are free to set qualifications for voters in state and local affairs.
A growing movement seeks to write bans on noncitizen voting into state laws and constitutions — but there’s also a significant push by immigrant-rights advocates to expand voting to noncitizens.
New York was the crown jewel in that latter effort, with advocates figuring roughly 900,000 noncitizen residents might have been able to register.
The city’s program would have allowed noncitizens with some claim to legal status to vote. That would have included illegal immigrant “Dreamers” and those here on Temporary Protected Status who are in the country without lawful status but have been granted a stay of deportation and permission by the government to work.
Noncitizen voting is allowed in local elections in some small communities in Maryland and Vermont, and San Francisco allows it for school board elections. But according to data obtained by The Washington Times, few noncitizens actually do vote.
PILF and the four Black residents who sued on Monday said the racial effects of New York’s law are so sweeping that they run afoul of the U.S. Constitution’s 15th Amendment, which bars abridging the right to vote “on account of race.”