New York City is on its way to becoming the largest jurisdiction in the country to allow noncitizens to vote in local elections after lawmakers in a key City Council committee pushed forward a bill on Wednesday to expand voter eligibility in the five boroughs. 

The bill, which was approved by the council's governmental operations committee by a vote of 6-1, would allow nearly one million immigrants to participate in municipal elections. 

“There are so many of those people here that stayed [during COVID-19], delivering food, working in supermarkets, that they've been living in the shadows,” Councilman Ydanis Rodriguez, who sponsored the bill, said through tears.

Lawful permanent residents and persons authorized to work in the U.S., who have lived in the city for at least 30 consecutive days, would be able to vote in municipal elections, including the races for mayor, comptroller, borough president, City Council and for ballot initiatives. They would not be able to vote in federal or state elections.

Advocates for the bill, who have been pushing to get it passed for years, said they were hopeful about what this means for the future of the city.

“With this bill, there will be a lot of inclusion of immigrant communities that have been closed [out] for a long, long time,” said Dolma Lama, an organizer with Desis Rising & Moving, a South Asian and Indo-Caribbean advocacy organization.

However, critics of the bill, including Mayor Bill de Blasio and Councilman Kalman Yeger, who was the only committee member to vote against the bill, question whether the council can make the change. 

“This is not a message that it would be bad for more people to be enfranchised, the question is whether we are legally allowed to do it and the answer is no,” said Yeger, who represents parts of Brooklyn, including Bensonhurst and Borough Park.

Opponents argue that it’s up to the state to make the change and that allowing noncitizens to vote could dilute the power of citizenship.

“Even the Mayor agrees this bill is unconstitutional and ultimately will be defeated in the courts,” said Republican Councilman Joe Borelli in a statement. “Voting is, and should remain, a quintessential right of citizens.”

While New York City would be the largest jurisdiction to allow noncitizens to vote, it’s not the first city to do so, with precedent in jurisdictions across Maryland and Illinois, according to Councilman Rodriguez.

With a supermajority of support in the council, the bill is expected to pass on Thursday when it comes to a full vote.

De Blasio, although skeptical of the bill, has said that he will not veto it. 

“I still have very mixed feelings about it,” de Blasio said at a news conference on Wednesday. “I've been honest about that. That hasn't changed a bit. I think there are still some outstanding legal questions about the city's authority versus the state’s in this matter. But I respect the City Council. So, you know, we'll see what their final action is there.”

The legislation would allow noncitizens to start registering to vote next December. They would be allowed to cast their first votes in local elections beginning on January 9, 2023, according to a City Council spokesperson.