Voters Rights Legislation Signed into New York Law
On June 20, the third day of early primary voting in New York, voters have new assurances that rules won’t be changed to keep them away from the polls.
Legislation was signed by Governor Kathy Hochul (D-Buffalo) requiring counties with a record of suppressing minority voters’ rights to seek state approval before changing any voting rules.
The John R. Lewis Voting Rights Act restores many of the provision of the Federal Voting Rights Act of 1965 that was derailed by a Supreme Court Ruling in 2013. At that time, the high court said there was no longer a need for federal oversight to make sure counties and states with a history of putting provisions in place to make it hard for Blacks and other persons of color to access the polls and participate in the process could not change voting rules to block access.
While there is still no movement to restore voters rights legislation on the federal level, New York’s law, named after the late Georgia Congressman and Civil Rights activist, John Lewis, prohibits election-related laws that eliminate the voting strength of a protected class, voter intimidation or obstruction and expands language assistance for voters whose primary language is not English.
The "Preclearance" provision establishes a state analogue to the now dormant federal Voting Rights Act requiring covered jurisdictions to "preclear" any changes to certain important election-related laws and policies before they can implement them to make sure they are not violating the voting rights of a protected class.
LatinoJustice PRLDEF Associate Counsel Fulvia Vargas-De Leon said,
"Signing the John R. Lewis Voting Rights Act of New York into law places our state at the forefront of protecting communities of color from discriminatory actions that limit equal participation in our democracy. This right should not be controversial or political. Our fight for full and equitable access to the ballot is far from over, but this law gives us a strong tool to come one step closer to a democracy representative and inclusive of all voters."