As progressive as we all feel like we are here in liberal left Democratic majority New York state, our state has had a miserable record on voting rights, discrimination and partisanship in our elections.
The latest example is the ongoing court battle over the new district lines for the state Senate and Congress, which were supposed to be designed by an independent commission. Instead, they ended up being drawn by the Democratic majority in the state Legislature in such a heavily partisan way that the state’s highest court threw them out.
Drawing district lines is one way governments contaminate the voting process and deprive citizens of their rights.
Often, those practices fall heaviest on people of color, ethnic groups, language minority groups and the poor.
These practices include designating polling places that are difficult to access or are inaccessible to minority voters, making laws designed to discourage minority voting, making it difficult for people who don’t speak English to vote and in other ways obstructing or discouraging voting.
With the federal government so far unable to pass a nationwide voting rights act to ensure fairness and inclusivity in our electoral process, it’s up to the state to take the lead and fix our own problems.
That’s why it’s vital that lawmakers pass the John R. Lewis Voting Rights Act of New York, named after the late Georgia congressman and longtime civil rights activist.
Under the provisions of the bill (A6678A/S1046A), New York would expand language access for voters with limited English proficiency; create strong protections against voter intimidation, division and obstruction; instruct judges to interpret state election laws in favor of voters when possible; create new legal tools to fight discriminatory voting rules in court; prevent local governments with a history of discrimination from enacting changes in laws to harm voters through a “pre-clearance” program, and create a central hub for election data and demographic information that can be shared and accessed by voters and government officials.
The bill has the support of dozens of organizations, including those representing minority and ethnic groups and advocates for racial and social justice.
A group of 72 such organizations recently submitted a letter of support to Gov. Kathy Hochul and legislative leaders urging passage before the legislative session ends on June 2. The bill this week moved out of the Senate Elections Committee, clearing the way for passage in the full Senate. As of Wednesday, the Assembly Election Law Committee was still reviewing it.
This bill contains simple, clear and effective changes to make sure that all voters in New York have the opportunity to make their voices heard at the ballot box.
It’s time to get this law on the books and remove the barriers that prevent people from exercising their right to vote.