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Lawsuit over noncitizen voting rights in local elections faces new delay

A lawsuit filed last month seeking to block newly enacted legislation that would expand voting rights in local elections to more than 800,000 noncitizens hit a snag after the New York City Board of Elections (BOE), which is usually represented by the city’s Corporation Counsel, requested its own lawyer.

“To protect its interests in this matter, BOE wants to consult with other counsel to ensure that no potential conflict exists with the other municipal defendants,” wrote the city’s Assistant Corporation Counsel Aimee Lulich in court papers filed Friday seeking additional time to respond to the complaint.

The BOE wants until March 28th to respond to the plaintiffs’ claim citing the ongoing redistricting process, their limited meeting schedule and a desire to pick their own representation.

The suit was filed in Richmond County State Supreme Court by plaintiffs led by Staten Island Borough President Vito Fosella, and argued the law violates the state constitution and state election laws. The defendants include Mayor Eric Adams, the City Council and the city BOE.

In Friday’s court papers, the city Law Department noted it was only appearing on behalf of the BOE “for the limited purpose of requesting additional time” so that the agency could retain and consult with an outside attorney before filing a response to the complaint.

The Law Department did submit an answer to the initial complaint on behalf of the mayor and Council, denying claims that the law was unconstitutional and violated state and federal statutes. Once the court sets a hearing schedule, the city’s Corporation Counsel is expected to file more detailed legal papers explaining why the city believes the suit is meritless.

“The Mayor and the Council have said they would vigorously defend this law,” said Law Department spokesman Nick Paolucci in an email. “We’ve formally begun that process with the filing of today’s Answer.”

This is not the first time the city’s elections officials have sought their own counsel.

It happened in 2019 when the BOE retained outside counsel to sue the city to prevent language interpreters hired by the de Blasio administration from working at poll sites across the city. The BOE lost that case.

The BOE’s spokesperson Valerie Vazquez-Diaz declined to comment on the noncitizen voting lawsuit citing the pending litigation.

Advocates for the legislation remain confident it will pass legal muster.

“We are confident that the complaint has no grounds,” Murad Awawdeh, head of the New York Immigration Coalition told Gothamist. His organization was a strong proponent of the legislation but is not party to the lawsuit. But he did note that his organization looked forward to working with the BOE on the law’s implementation.

“All defendants in a lawsuit should do their due diligence and be properly represented,” Murad added, “so nothing the BOE is doing is cause for concern.”

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