NY state lawmaker proposes referendum to block noncitizens from casting ballots

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New York City lets legal noncitizens vote in municipal elections, but there are new moves to stop them.

A state constitutional referendum is being proposed to block noncitizens from casting ballots in New York state.

“I don’t believe that foreign nationals should be voting in our elections,” says the bill’s sponsor, New York State Assembly Member Kevin Byrne, R-Mahopac.

“One of the hallmark benefits of being an American citizen is the right to vote. Do not diminish that voting power of American citizens by expanding it to noncitizens. If you want to vote in this country, and especially in New York, you should become an American citizen.”

New York Mayor Eric Adams speaks during a news conference at City Hall in New York City, U.S., January 24, 2022. REUTERS/Brendan McDermid
(REUTERS/Brendan McDermid)

Byrne represents a district in Putnam County, just north of New York City, where he is running for county executive. He says citizens of other countries should not have the ability to affect the American governmental process, noting that voting is a right and a privilege afforded to U.S. citizens.

“I believe we are the greatest country, the most exceptional country, with the most opportunity to offer on the face of the planet, and I sincerely believe that citizenship needs to mean something in this country. And if you are a permanent resident, and you have a green card, you have already gone through a very long process to come here legally. If you want to vote in our elections, God bless you, become an American citizen. Fully commit to this country, and then you can vote, but not when you are committed to another nation.”

A Fox News poll shows an overwhelming number of people, 71%, say that noncitizens should not be given the right to vote. Republicans oppose noncitizen voting by an overwhelming 89%, Independents by 77%, and Democrats are even split on the issue at 50%.

A rainstorm passes over lower Manhattan and One World Trade Center in New York City on May 11, 2020, as seen from Jersey City, New Jersey.
(Gary Hershorn/FOX News)

Eleven towns in Maryland and two in Vermont already allow legal noncitizens to take part in local elections, and next month the Green Mountain state’s capital city, Montpelier, will join them.

“We were really interested in being inclusive, in terms of having our neighbors, the people who are a part of our community, participating in local government,” Montpelier Mayor Anne Watson told Fox News.

“There is precedent for this around the country, so we decided, as a community, that this is something that we wanted to do to support that. There are people in our communities, our neighbors, our friends, our co-workers, who live here and have lived here for years, who are not citizens of the United States, but are nonetheless very much part of our community. We wanted to extend to them the authority, or the capacity to participate in local elections.”

As elsewhere, the approval only gives noncitizens the right to vote for local municipal offices, not state or federal elections. The measure was approved by Montpelier’s City Council and given the green light by the state legislature. Watson says the move expands participation in our democracy and recognizes the contributions of people who, although they are not legal citizens, still pay taxes and are productive members of society.

Voting booths
(iStock)

“Folks here are psyched about this, and we’re eager to see how it goes. We think it’s going to go really well,” she said.

The mayor said that of roughly 7,500 people who live in the city, the move will grant voting rights to only about 30 people.

“I actually had a conversation with a woman who told me that this coming March will be the first time that she will have voted in the United States, and she’s really excited about it,” Watson said. “She’s someone that I’ve known for a long time, and I’m really excited to have her be a part of our democracy now.”

But Byrne believes that concession is a bridge too far.

“One of the hallmark benefits of being an American citizen is the right to vote,” he said. “Do not diminish that voting power of American citizens by expanding it to noncitizens. If you want to vote in this country, especially in New York, you should become an American citizen.”

New York City has eight and a half million people. About 10%, or 800,000, are legal noncitizens and, for now, they can vote unless New Yorkers in the rest of the state eventually say no.

Fox News’ Ben Evansky contributed to this report.

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