By Royal Alexander
The City Council in New York City recently approved legislation that would allow approximately 800,000 non-citizens to vote in local elections. One of the several problems with this bill (which will become law because NYC Mayor Bill de Blasio has said he won’t veto it) is that it is clearly unconstitutional as to both the New York state constitution as well as our U.S. Constitution. It is highly likely the law will be immediately enjoined and then litigated in court where I believe it will be struck down.
The New York State Constitution guarantees citizens the right to vote. In fact, the Second Article of New York State’s Constitution ensures that “every citizen shall be entitled to vote at every election for all officers elected by the people … provided that such citizen is  years of age or over and shall have been a resident of this state, … county, city, or village for  days next preceding an election.” (Emphasis added).
Supporters of this measure have argued that because this language does not expressly exclude non-citizens, New York City can allow them to vote. This is ludicrous. This constitutional language does clearly exclude from voting those who are not citizens by expressly requiring that voters be citizens. This law is also backwards and has no limiting principle. It is easy to imagine it being manipulated. At a minimum, the brief 30-day residency by non-citizen voters would allow a non-citizen to live in NYC for the duration of a particular job or project, making them eligible to vote, after which they return to their native country. This would easily allow outside influences to impact New Y0rk City elections.
As writer, commentator and former Asst. U.S. Attorney, Andrew McCarthy, has stated, “…when noncitizens vote, it dilutes the votes of citizens, because the concept that the votes of citizens count is a bedrock of constitutional democracy. Also fundamental is the concept of citizenship, to which singular allegiance to the nation and its laws is basic.” That is why, McCarthy continued, “if citizenship is eviscerated, so are our ties to the nation and to the ideal that we are a unified political community. This is why citizenship has always been a prerequisite to voting. To be a citizen is not merely to have the rights but also the obligations of being an American. Citizenship implies a commitment to the nation and its principles, which is what makes the country work, and makes us a unique national community.”
It is unquestionable that the hallmark of a legitimately functioning democracy in a free society is the honest exercise of the voting franchise by its citizens. Period. If people become convinced that their vote—the most powerful tool they possess to express themselves, their policy preferences, and to participate in our civic life—is not valued and protected, the rule of law will crumble. And when the rule of law is gone what results is chaos, anarchy, and the law of the mob. Many people in this country already feel powerless and disconnected and if the hope and faith they place in their vote—their voice—is corrupted and destroyed, our nation cannot endure.
As Thomas Paine said, the right of citizens to vote “is the primary right by which all other rights are protected.” We must recall that in the history of the world, the right of a citizenry to choose its leaders—in this great American experiment in Democracy, as Lincoln articulated it—is a narrow historical exception to rule by a king or czar or mullah or dictator or tyrant.
Our right to vote is a sacred right that wasn’t given to us by politicians, journalists, priests or rabbis. It is a precious right given to us by the Founders who pledged “our Lives, our Fortunes, and our sacred Honor” in commitment to the principle of individual freedom and with an understanding that freedom is not free; and also given to us by 1.1 million American service men and women since the Revolutionary War up to the present day who have given the “last full measure of devotion” to grant and protect citizens’ right to form and sustain a “government by consent of the governed.” NYC dishonors those who gave their lives to give us the right to vote.
Our fundamental right to vote is truly preservative of all our other rights and citizenship has always been the only moral and credible place to draw the line regarding this sacred right. And it must so remain.
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