New York lawmakers approve new voting rights protections
The New York State Legislature approved new voting rights legislation on Thursday that would, among other things, require certain local governments to seek clearance from the state when they make changes to their elections, like clearing voter rolls or moving polling sites.
The bill, named after civil rights icon and late U.S. Rep. John R. Lewis, will now head to Governor Kathy Hochul after passing the state Senate earlier this week.
It’s considered a landmark voting rights bill; the measure would also create new legal protections against voter intimidation and deception, and allow voters to more easily sue over discriminatory voting practices.
“Today, we prohibited voter suppression in the state of New York. Today, we prohibited voter dilution in the state of New York,” said Assemblywoman Latrice Walker, a Democrat from Brooklyn who sponsored the bill.
“Its sole mission is to safeguard the very cornerstone of our democracy: our right to vote,” she said.
The bill would require local governments that have a history of racial discrimination to seek pre-clearance from the state Attorney General’s office before they make any major changes to how they administer their elections.
A series of changes would qualify for that pre-clearance standard, from how voters are registered to how polling sites are managed and placed ahead of an election.
It would also protect voters from unexpected changes ahead of an election, like how elections officials in New York City purged 200,000 voters from the city’s rolls in 2016.
State Senator Zellnor Myrie, a Democrat from Brooklyn who carried the bill in his respective chamber, said the legislation would make the state’s elections more secure for voters.
"For as long as our country has existed, there have been those who seek to restrict voting and diminish democracy,” Myrie said. “Today, New York is taking a stand. We will always be a pro-voter state, and our laws must reflect that.”
Republicans largely voted against the bill in both chambers, pointing partly to anticipated costs for local governments that might fall under the legislation’s provisions.
Assemblywoman Mary Beth Walsh, R-Saratoga, said she was concerned about how the provisions could clog up the state’s courts, and lead to a web of legal troubles for those municipalities.
“Ultimately this legislation will present unfettered access to courts for subjective voter rights availing municipalities, school boards and boards of election to a litigation bomb,” Walsh said.
Hochul has signaled support for a federal bill with the same provisions, but hasn’t said publicly if she plans to sign the legislation.