The city is doubling down on its support for a new law that would extend voting rights to certain noncitizens.
Last month, a Staten Island judge ruled that the law, which would allow people legally living and working in the city to vote in local elections, violates the state constitution and state election law.
Friday, the New York City Law Department filed a notice that it will appeal with the Appellate Division, Second Department. The move breathes new life into the fight to enfranchise nearly 1 million new voters starting next year.
The law, known as local law 11, would extend voting rights in elections for offices including mayor, city comptroller, public advocate, City Council and borough president. It would also require the city Board of Elections to set up a new voter registration process for these municipal voters.
There had been growing concern among advocates over whether the city would join them in appealing Richmond County State Supreme Court Justice Ralph Porzio’s ruling. The deadline to file a notice of appeal is Wednesday. Those advocates, who had joined the lawsuit on behalf of individuals who would gain voting rights, had already vowed to appeal are included in the claim.
“This appeal continues the city’s commitment to vigorously defend the law,” a city Law Department spokesperson said in a statement.
Supporters including Councilmember Shahana Hanif, who chairs the Immigration Committee, applauded the city’s move.
That sentiment was echoed by attorneys from LatinoJustice, a nonprofit civil rights organization that had joined the lawsuit on behalf of individual New Yorkers who would gain new voting rights under the law.
"The City's decision to appeal this matter reaffirms the need and importance of protecting the right to vote in municipal elections for close to one million New Yorkers,” said Fulvia Vargas-De León, associate counsel for LatinoJustice. She said her group intends to fight for its clients' rights to participate in the democratic process “and to support the law’s constitutionality.”
Attorneys for the plaintiffs who sued to invalidate the law one day after it was enacted have not yet responded to a request for comment about the city’s appeal. The suit named Mayor Eric Adams, the Council and the city Board of Elections.
However, Council Minority Leader Joseph Borelli, who is among the plaintiffs, said he believes the city has little legal ground to make its case.
“I think it’s a political game to just come off as though this is something the mayor intends to fight and support,” Borelli told Gothamist. He insisted that state election law limits voting to United States citizens and felt confident that the lower court’s decision would be upheld. “I doubt the city has any real argument of law to make to the Second Department.”
Other plaintiffs, include moderate Democrat Councilmember Bob Holden, offered similar sentiments on Twitter.
But the law’s proponents insist the lower court never seriously considered the defendants’ legal arguments in support of the law. They also claim the decision was politically motivated, made by a judge in a county that is dominated by Republicans.
“We're going to continue fighting for our democracy even in the face of divisive partisan attacks,” said Murad Awawdeh, executive director of the New York Immigration Coalition, one of the lead organizations mobilizing support for this law.
As it continues winding its way through the courts, the clock is ticking on the year-long window to implement the law. Certain city agencies would be tasked with carrying out the law and educating staff and the public about the new rules. For example, the city Board of Elections would be responsible for registering the new municipal voters and conducting the local elections. The city Campaign Finance Board is responsible for educating people about this new right through its voter education arm, NYC Votes.
To begin understanding what voters need to know about the new law, the CFB hired a research firm to do an initial survey of New York City residents who would be newly eligible to vote under the law. They found that 84% of respondents said they would certainly or most likely vote when eligible.
Melissa John, a green card holder who has lived and worked in the city for more than two decades, plans to be first among those casting their vote. She said the city’s decision to push forward with the appeal made her feel one step closer to having a voice in her community. John said she pays taxes but currently has no say in how those dollars are spent — whether it’s about adding a speed bump on her street or building a new school in her neighborhood.
John came to the city from Trinidad and Tobago to earn her undergraduate and master's degrees in education. She currently works as an instructional coach at a public elementary school in District 9 in the Bronx. John said she is part of a growing coalition of individuals who will continue fighting until they secure their local voting rights.
“A flame has been lit,” said John. “And there’s no puting it out now.”