Heading into the 2022 midterm elections, Americans must contend with the many voting restrictions passed in Republican-led states. A Senate push earlier this year to pass the Freedom to Vote: John R. Lewis Act failed with no revision in sight. However, New York has passed a version that borrows many of the Congressional bill’s principles through the state senate. Once Gov. Kathy Hochul (D-NY) signs the John R. Lewis Voting Rights Act of New York, it will be the country’s most substantial set of voter protections in the nation.
The new provisions as laid out in the bill are as follows
- Create a pre-clearance program that requires local governments with histories of discrimination against minority voters to prove that any changes they make to voting laws or election procedures would not harm voters of color before taking effect.
- Add new penalties for voter intimidation, deception, or obstruction.
- Instructing state judges to interpret election laws in a pro-voter way whenever possible, so that close questions of legal interpretation are resolved in favor of the rights of qualified voters.
- Establishing, through companion legislation, a central hub for election data and demographic information that will empower officials and community members to ensure accessible election
The pre-clearance part is important because the Supreme Court gutted a similar provision of the federal Voting Rights Act that required states and municipalities with histories of discrimination to get federal approval from the Department of Justice before they made any adjustments to election procedures.
Senator Zellnor Y. Myrie (D-Central Brooklyn), the bill’s lead author, gave the following statement after the New York Senate passed the Voting Rights Act.
The Voting Rights Act of New York, named in tribute to John R. Lewis, will enact the strongest voter protections of any state in the country and provide legal recourse for voters whose rights are denied or abridged. We’re fighting for the VRA not to favor any political party or ideology, but instead because we know the right to vote is the sacred underpinning of our system of government. With the federal government increasingly unable to advance voting rights, states must step into the void, and I’m incredibly proud the Senate has passed the VRA.