New York Enacts Historic Voting Rights Protections

By: - June 21, 2022 12:00 am

A voter casts a ballot in New York City during the November 2021 mayoral election. New York state enacted what has been called the nation’s strongest voting rights bill this week. Anthony Behar/Sipa USA via The Associated Press

New York enacted landmark voting rights legislation this week that advocates say is the strongest in the country.

In response to dwindling federal protections and a wave of ballot restrictions in states across the nation, Democratic Gov. Kathy Hochul signed the measure into law the day the state observed Juneteenth, the holiday commemorating the end of slavery in the United States.

“Our democracy only works if everyone who is eligible can participate in it and that the rights of the voters are respected,” she said at the signing ceremony at Medgar Evers College in Brooklyn, named after the civil rights activist who was assassinated in 1963.

Provisions in the legislation aim to outlaw racial or language discrimination against voters. The measures include one that requires communities to get state approval for any changes affecting ballot access that could harm minority voters.

The law also provides new language assistance in voting and protects against voter intimidation at the polls. Additionally, the state created a centralized hub of election and demographic data that lawmakers hope will be used to create more equitable ballot access.

Voting rights advocates lauded the measure, saying it offers more comprehensive protections for voters of color than any other state.

“At a moment of crisis for voting rights in the United States, New York has emerged as a national leader,” said Sean Morales-Doyle, acting director in the Voting Rights Program at the Brennan Center for Justice at New York University School of Law, in a statement. “For too long, New Yorkers have faced discriminatory voting rules and practices. No more.”

The Democratic-backed bill passed along party lines. While no Republicans spoke out against the bill during floor debates, the Conservative Party of New York State said in a memo the measure was “unmanageable, extremely expensive and unnecessary.”

The New York law is named after former U.S. Rep. John Lewis, a Georgia Democrat and civil rights leader who died in 2020. The law came in response to the U.S. Supreme Court gutting key provisions of the Voting Rights Act of 1965 over the past decade and Congress failing to pass voting rights protections last year, said Democratic state Sen. Zellnor Myrie, the lead sponsor of the legislation.

“We are fighting back against the attacks on our democracy,” Myrie said at the bill’s signing ceremony. “This isn’t a Southern problem. This isn’t a Republican-controlled state problem. This is an American problem, and that includes the state of New York.”

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Matt Vasilogambros
Matt Vasilogambros

Matt Vasilogambros covers voting rights, gun laws and Western climate policy for Stateline. He lives in San Diego, California.