New York to Get New Voter Rights Legislation

Lawmakers in New York are on the verge of approving a dramatic rewrite of election regulations that will extend access to the polls and shift legal scales in favor of voters. 

The legislation, fashioned after stalled congressional Democratic plans and named after the late Georgia Democrat, John Lewis, cleared the Democratic-controlled state Senate on a party-line vote on Tuesday.

The state Assembly, which is also controlled by the Democrats, is anticipated to take up the legislation before the end of the week. 

Governor Kathy Hochul (D) said she would sign the bill, upon its final passage.

Pre-Clearance Initiative

The bill would establish a so-called “pre-clearance” initiative.

This would require local governments with a history of oppression against minority voters to demonstrate any adjustments they make to voter laws (or election procedures) will not negatively affect voters of color, prior to their implementation. 

The U.S. Supreme Court struck down a comparable section of the federal Voting Rights Act.

This section required states and localities with a history of discrimination to get pre-approval from the national Department of Justice before making their own modifications to election procedures. 

The proposed legislation will impose new sanctions for voting intimidation, deception, and obstruction.

In a state where many voters speak different languages at home, they would also increase language help programs for voters with limited English proficiency.

Legislative and state Republicans didn’t initially respond to requests for comment. 

New York’s voting regulations have trailed behind other states for decades.

As other states implemented early voting, excuse-free absentee voting, and online voter registration, New York remained entrenched in the history of machine politics, which favored smaller, more manageable electorates. 

In recent years, Republicans who dominated the state Senate, along with representatives of the Independent Democratic Conference, obstructed efforts to alter and modernize election regulations. 

Severe Blunders

After Democrats retook control of the state Senate, a series of severe blunders by election managers brought additional scrutiny to voting processes in what is otherwise one of the most progressive jurisdictions in the country. 

The new suggestions are the results of a string of terrible errors made by New York election authorities over the past few years.

In 2016, the New York City Board of Elections erroneously removed more than 120,000 voters from the voter rolls, a mistake that unfairly affected Hispanic areas in Brooklyn. 

For years, the city’s Board of Elections has been the focus of controversy. In 2001, thousands of ballots were counted twice in the Democratic mayoral primary.

In 2012, votes from Bronx precincts were not counted during a heated contest between then-Senator Adriano Espaillat (D) and then-Representative Charlie Rangel (D). 

In 2018, the board’s executive director blamed wet weather for blocked vote-counting scanners and long queues of voters who had to wait even after casting ballots. 

Myrie, who heads the committee that oversees election administration, pledged to modernize the organization by implementing vote reforms.

In the midst of a congressional impasse over voting rights legislation, he told The Hill earlier this year that other measures were crucial.