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The Morning Dispatch: Noncitizens Get the Vote in NYC Elections
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The Morning Dispatch: Noncitizens Get the Vote in NYC Elections

Plus: Sen. Mike Rounds's stand against the 2020 election truthers.

Happy Tuesday! On this day 49 years ago, MLB’s American League adopted the designated hitter rule for the first time. 

Quick Hits: Today’s Top Stories

  • After the New York Times reported last week he had failed to disclose well-timed stock purchases from the early days of the pandemic, Federal Reserve Vice Chair Richard Clarida announced Monday he will resign from the Fed’s Board of Governors on Friday—two weeks before he was slated to step down. Clarida is the third Federal Reserve official to resign in recent months following trading scandals, and Federal Reserve Chairman Jerome Powell will likely be asked about the controversy in his confirmation hearing later today.

  • Ousted Burmese leader Aung San Suu Kyi was sentenced to an additional four-year prison term on Monday after the military junta that overthrew the country’s government last February found her guilty of violating COVID-19 protocols and possessing “unlicensed walkie-talkies.” Suu Kyi, 76, was hit with another four-year sentence last year on separate charges, but junta chief Min Aung Hlaing cut it down to two years.

  • The White House said Monday that President Joe Biden spoke with Ethiopian Prime Minister Abiy Ahmed yesterday about the country’s civil war, “commending” him on the release of political prisoners but “expressing concern” about the Ethiopian government’s recent airstrikes that have caused civilian casualties.

  • Rep. Ed Perlmutter of Colorado announced Monday he will not seek reelection in 2022, becoming the 26th House Democrat to do so this cycle.

  • South Korean military officials said Tuesday morning that North Korea had launched another projectile off its east coast, the country’s second in two weeks.

  • The Georgia Bulldogs won the College Football Playoff national championship on Monday, defeating the Alabama Crimson Tide 33-18.

Noncitizens Get the Vote in NYC Elections

(Photo by ANGELA WEISS/AFP via Getty Images.)

Aside from working to keep public schools open amid the Omicron surge, the most significant move made thus far by New York City Mayor Eric Adams—who was sworn in January 1—involved him doing nothing at all. 

Late last year, New York’s city council voted 33-14 to pass a bill giving the city’s 800,000 noncitizen residents the right to vote in municipal elections. Under New York City law, approved legislation automatically goes into effect after 30 days if the mayor doesn’t veto it—even if he or she neglects to actively sign it. Outgoing Mayor Bill de Blasio sat on his hands for several weeks, and Adams declined to take action as the veto period expired over the weekend.

On Sunday, therefore, New York became by far the biggest city in America to extend the franchise—for local races, at least—to legally present noncitizens like green card holders and “Dreamers.” (Or rather, to pledge to extend the franchise; the affected populations won’t be eligible to vote in citywide races until January 2023.)

“I think it is imperative that people who are in a local municipality have the right to decide who is going to govern them,” Adams told CNN on Sunday. He had initially toyed with opposing the bill over the shortness of its residence qualification period—the newly franchised noncitizens need only to have lived in New York City for 30 days—but ultimately decided it was “more important” to “allow the bill to move forward.”

To proponents, the utility of the new law is self-evident: New York has a large number of noncitizen residents, and while they may be unable to vote in federal or state elections, they pay taxes and should at least have a say in how things are run in their own backyard. They point out, too, that the arrangement is not without precedent: A handful of towns in Vermont and Maryland—including the D.C. suburbs of Takoma Park, Chevy Chase, and Hyattsville—already allow legal noncitizen residents to vote in local contests. New York City itself for decades permitted noncitizens to vote specifically in school board races, an arrangement that ended only when the city did away with school boards themselves in the early 2000s.

Still, “let noncitizens vote” would be a controversial position under any circumstances—what does it even mean to be a citizen if anyone who shows up for a month gains the franchise?—and all the more so at a time when Republicans have spent the last year and change nursing grievances about Democratic efforts, both real and imagined, to tilt elections in their favor by expanding ballot access far and wide.

As it happened, pushback from Republicans was swift. By Monday, the Republican National Committee had already filed suit against the mayor and the council, charging that the new law violated New York’s state constitution and various other state laws. De Blasio, the city’s Democratic former mayor, expressed similar concerns back in September as the legislation was working its way through the City Council. 

“Our Law Department is very clear on this,” he told WNYC at the time. “It’s [not] legal for this to be decided at the city level. I really believe this has to be decided at the state level, according to state law.”

Facing significant political pressure from local activists, de Blasio decided months later not to block the bill. But a judge soon could, as the RNC’s suit has teeth. As the complainants points out, New York’s constitution and existing laws are pretty explicit about who gets the franchise: “Every citizen,” the constitution reads, “shall be entitled to vote at every election for all officers elected by the people and upon all questions submitted to the vote of the people,” provided he or she is over 18 and has been a state resident for at least 30 days.

The law’s proponents counter that this provision should be read as a floor for the franchise, not its ceiling; that all the constitution is saying is that resident adult citizens can’t be prevented by law from voting, not that others can’t be included via new legislation too. But that reading is complicated by other elements of the constitution alluded to in the suit, most notably the provision establishing that “every local government … shall have a legislative body elected by the people thereof,” later defining “people” as “persons entitled to vote as provided in section one of article two of this constitution.” That would seem to indicate that that provision was intended to codify the set of voting persons, not merely establish the minimum possible group that could get the right to vote.

At any rate, the courts will soon hash out this particular legal question. In the meantime, the new law stands as the latest illustration that Democrats and Republicans remain far apart not just on questions of what sort of policies our country should adopt, but even the basic rules for who gets to decide them.

“It’s this question of, who should have a say?” Ron Hayduk, a professor of politics at San Francisco State University and scholar of the history of immigrant voting, told The Dispatch. “Who’s really American? Is citizenship the basis for how we think about that, or is a notion of [being a] stakeholder a legitimate basis?”

Several states—including Florida, Alabama, Colorado, North Dakota, and Arizona—have enacted laws or amendments preemptively banning any localities in the state from implementing noncitizen voting, and Georgia Secretary of State Brad Raffensperger, a Republican, advocated this weekend for a constitutional amendment that would do the same nationwide. What little polling there is on this issue suggests such an amendment would enjoy broad, bipartisan support: A 2018 Hill.TV/HarrisX survey found 71 percent of respondents—including 54 percent of Democrats—opposed San Francisco’s decision to allow noncitizen voting just in school board elections. (KQED, a California NPR station, reported in November 2018 that just 56 such noncitizens had registered for that year’s election.) 

Rounds Stands Up to Trump

When Republican Sen. Mike Rounds of South Dakota agreed to go on ABC News’ This Week on Sunday, he had to have known host George Stephanopoulos would ask him his thoughts on the first anniversary of the January 6 riots and what led to them. He had an answer prepared.

“As a part of our due diligence, we looked at over 60 different accusations made in multiple states,” Rounds said, noting that none of the irregularities brought to his attention would’ve changed the outcome in any state. “The election was fair, as fair as we have seen. We simply did not win the election, as Republicans, for the presidency.”

Rounds, the former governor of South Dakota who was elected to the Senate in 2014, is neither a Never Trumper nor a MAGA devotee. He broke with the former president on policy grounds a handful of times—on a bipartisan immigration deal in 2018, on Trump’s trade war with China in 2019—but voted in line with Trump’s position 90 percent of the time, generally did his best to avoid weighing in on the various scandals of the past five years, voted against conviction in both impeachment trials, and said on January 5, 2021 that he was going into the next day’s proceedings with an open mind. (He ultimately decided against objecting to the Electoral College vote counts.)

None of that mattered to Trump, who in a statement Monday morning accused Rounds of going “woke” on the “fraudulent” 2020 election. “Is he crazy or just stupid? The numbers are conclusive, and the fraudulent and irregular votes are massive,” Trump continued, lying. “Even though his election will not be coming up for 5 years, I will never endorse this jerk again.”

Rounds, whose wife Jean passed away from cancer a few weeks ago, could’ve backed down. He outperformed Trump in South Dakota by a few percentage points last year, but the former president remains incredibly popular in the state—and will now make it his mission to see to it that Rounds pays some sort of political price for his disloyalty. But unlike his colleague from Texas, Rounds stood strong.

“I’m disappointed but not surprised by the former president’s reaction,” he responded Monday night. “However, the facts remain the same. I stand by my statement. The former president lost the 2020 election. This isn’t new information. If we’re being honest, there was no evidence of widespread fraud that would have altered the results of the election.”

“Vice President Mike Pence stood his ground, acknowledged President Biden’s victory and acted with integrity,” Rounds continued. “It’s time the rest of us do the same.”

In an era that’s come to be defined by political cowardice, Rounds’ comments stand out. Whatever inspired him to vocalize them, it’s increasingly clear that—in agreeing to go on ABC News this weekend, actively encouraging his supporters to tune into his comments, and posting his 235-word rebuttal to Trump on Twitter in its entirety—this is a broader fight he is willingly seeking out. “As Republicans, we owe it to tell the truth,” Rounds told NBC News last night. “And I think integrity matters. And so, in my opinion, if we want to keep the confidence of our supporters and our voters, then we have to be honest with them. We have to be forthright and be straightforward.”

Having just been re-elected in 2020, Rounds is insulated from Republican primary voters until 2026 and therefore uniquely positioned to make this case—which he admits is not purely altruistic. “If you look at the challenges our nation faces today—whether it be inflation, the border crisis or Afghanistan—it’s clear that we are in desperate need of responsible, conservative, disciplined leadership in the White House,” he said. “As a Republican Party, our focus should be on what lies ahead, not what’s in the past. Elections are about growing support for your party, not further dividing it. Attacking Republicans certainly isn’t going to result in a winning formula. Neither is telling citizens not to vote. If we are going to win in 2022 and 2024, we have to move forward together.”

Asked by Stephanopoulos on Sunday if, knowing what he knows now, he could support another Trump candidacy in that 2024 election, Rounds demurred. “I will take a hard look at it,” he said. “Personally, what I have told people is I’m going to support the Republican nominee to be president. I’m not sure that the eventual nominee has even shown up yet. There’s still … two years to go.”

Worth Your Time

  • It’s dangerous to allow politicians and officials to decide what constitutes “truth,” J.D. Tuccille writes in an essay for Reason. Although bigotry, extremism, and disinformation are real problems, “free societies recognize that it’s a lot more dangerous to let government officials designate what constitutes capital-T Truth than it is to respect people’s rights to decide for themselves,” he writes. “Truthful information doesn’t require a government seal of approval because government officials are as flawed and biased as anybody else.”

  • Steven Greenhut offers a piece of advice for politicians in his latest column for the  Orange County Register: Keep it simple. While officials preoccupy themselves with initiatives aimed at remedying society’s various ills, most people just want a government that keeps them safe and carries out basic administrative functions. “Upon election to office, politicians come to believe that they have the wherewithal to solve the world’s toughest problems. They usually mishandle the nuts-and-bolts chores they’re charged with addressing, yet dream of altering the Earth’s climate and eliminating enduring human conditions such as inequality and poverty,” Greenhut writes. “Most pols view themselves as the second coming of John F. Kennedy, Abraham Lincoln, or even Ronald Reagan, when most of us just want public servants who make sure the potholes are filled, the streets are marginally safe, the government budget balances, the trash gets picked up on time, and homeless people aren’t defecating in our local park.”

Presented Without Comment

Toeing the Company Line

  • On Monday’s episode of Advisory Opinions, David and Sarah go deep on Friday’s vaccine mandate oral arguments at the Supreme Court. How did Scott (Husband of the Pod) do? How do they see each case shaking out? And which basketball analogy best describes the likeliest outcome?

  • On the website today: Paul Miller offers a defense of (occasional) “nutpicking”—viewing a handful of extremists as representative of the other “side”—and Michael Petrilli writes on expected new Biden administration guidance on school discipline.

Let Us Know

What do you make of Sen. Mike Rounds’ comments in recent days? Are they an aberration, or a sign of things to come?

Reporting by Declan Garvey (@declanpgarvey), Andrew Egger (@EggerDC), Charlotte Lawson (@lawsonreports), Audrey Fahlberg (@AudreyFahlberg), Ryan Brown (@RyanP_Brown), Harvest Prude (@HarvestPrude), and Steve Hayes (@stephenfhayes).