New York would make it easier to sue over discriminatory voting policies and require localities with a history of civil right violations to get approval before changing election rules, under legislation that passed the Democrat-controlled Assembly and Senate Thursday.
A spokesperson for Gov. Kathy Hochul, a Democrat, said she will review the legislation. This year, Hochul has called for this type of state-level Voting Rights Act to protect voters of different races and languages.
New York’s bill follows the U.S. Senate’s failure in January to pass voting legislation that would have enabled the Justice Department to intervene in states with a history of voter inference.
Under the bill, certain areas, school boards, or local election boards would no longer be able to make changes — like removing people from voter rolls, reducing voting hours or the cutting number of polling sites — without approval from the state attorney general’s office or courts.
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Communities where minority New Yorkers have disproportionately high arrest rates could also need permission to change election rules.
The legislation would make lawsuits over voter intimidation and suppression easier by laying out an expedited process for New Yorkers or the attorney general to sue over voting violations, including new bans on voter intimidation, deception and obstruction.
Courts could come up with solutions for voter suppression ranging from moving the dates of elections to adding more voting hours or days.
Democrats and civil rights leaders have said Republican-led states are passing laws making it more difficult for Black Americans and others to vote by consolidating polling locations, requiring certain types of identification and ordering other changes.
Parts of New York City once had to seek federal approval for changes to election and voting laws under a key part of the 1965 Voting Rights Act that the U.S. Supreme Court struck down in 2013.
Roughly a century ago, New York state passed laws that required English literacy tests to vote and moved election day to Saturday, during the Jewish Sabbath.
Bill sponsors Sen. Zellnor Myrie and Assemblymember Latrice Walker, both Democrats from New York City, said the state’s record on voting has improved but still needs work.
Supporters cited U.S. Census data that shows voter registration and turnout rates are lower for Black and Hispanic New Yorkers than non-Hispanic white residents.
In recent decades, New York has also faced criticism of its language assistance programs for minority voters, and allegations of gerrymandering political districts to reduce the power of minority communities.
“Since the courts have weakened the federal Voting Rights Act and without action from Congress to strengthen it, we have seen a wave of laws passed across this nation meant to stifle the voting power of minority voters,” Walker said. “This legislation sends the message that here in New York, your right to vote is protected.”
New York’s legislation is similar to a 2021 law in Virginia that empowers voters and the attorney general to sue over voter suppression and requires local election officials to get public comment or pre-approval from the attorney general for voting policy changes.
Oregon lawmakers this year failed to pass a bill that would have required some local communities to get permission for election law changes.