In a big win for voting rights, the New York State Senate voted to approve the NYVRA on May 31, 2022, the Assembly passed the NYVRA on June 2, 2022, and Governor Hochul signed the bill into law on June 20, 2022.
As Black and Brown voters face the greatest assault on their voting rights since the Jim Crow era, we are relying on states to protect the right to vote and safeguard our democracy. With the passage of the John R. Lewis Voting Rights Advancement Act of New York (NYVRA, S.1046 / A.6678), New York has seized the opportunity to pave the way and set the standard for state-level voting rights, and continue its journey from “worst to first” on voting rights.
New York used to have some of the most restrictive voting laws in the nation. In recent years, policymakers have made great strides toward establishing a new reputation for New York as one of the most pro-democracy states in the nation. But there are still serious problems with the way New York’s voting system works—and persistent barriers to equal participation by Black, Latino, Asian, and Native American voters.
With a Congress that can’t seem to act and a Supreme Court that seems opposed to reform, we need states to lead by example to protect our right to vote. New York has stepped up to set the standard for state-level voting rights by adopting the John R. Lewis Voting Rights Act of New York.
This landmark victory for Black voters was the product of dedicated advocacy by civil and voting rights organizations. LDF, the New York Voting Rights Consortium (Asian American Legal Defense and Education Fund, Center for Law and Social Justice at Medgar Evers College, LatinoJustice, PRLDEF, LDF) NYCLU, and nearly 70 additional organizations together representing hundreds of thousands of New Yorkers worked to ensure that all New Yorkers have equal access to the ballot.
LDF looks forward to building upon this landmark victory for democracy and working with leaders elsewhere in the U.S. to enact strong state-level voting rights acts.
The NYVRA builds on the strongest parts of the landmark federal Voting Rights Act of 1965 to protect New York voters against discrimination. Some critical provisions of the bill include:
Voters of color and people whose first language is not English still face discrimination and barriers to the ballot box, especially at the local level. District lines that weaken Black and Brown voting power, inaccessible polling locations, inadequate language assistance for voters who don’t speak English, and even outright voter intimidation — endure throughout the Empire State.
All too often, these issues go unaddressed because they happen at the local level where the oversight and tools needed to ensure fairness are lacking or don’t exist. The NYVRA will help change this and ensure that all New Yorkers have access to the ballot, and the tools needed to challenge voter suppression.
These are just some of the barriers New Yorkers still face:
New York still ranks near the bottom of the pack when it comes to overall registration and turnout rates. And these rates are even lower for New Yorkers of color.
Politicians are free to draw their own districts and make redistricting plans that can diminish Black and Brown New Yorkers’ voting power.
Many local governments use "at-large" election structures where all voters cast their ballots for all candidates in the jurisdiction, rather than electing candidates by districts. This can deny voters of color an equal voice on town councils or school boards because their votes can be drowned out or submerged by the votes of a majority of white voters, even in a diverse community.
Many polling stations fail to provide adequate language assistance for voters whose first language is not English. Federal law only requires language assistance to some voters in New York City (except Staten Island), Nassau, Suffolk, Westchester, and a few other counties where litigation has occurred.
Officials are free to move polling stations around to places that are hard to access — especially rural New Yorkers.
It is still too easy for people to engage in outright voter intimidation and get away with it.
The whole nation can now benefit from New York’s example. The NYVRA won’t just help New York keep moving from worst to first when it comes to the right to vote: it is now the most comprehensive state-level voting rights act in the country, building on successful laws in California, Washington, Oregon, and Virginia. With the NYVRA, New York is leading the way towards a more inclusive, multiracial democracy.
2020 saw a dramatic increase in attempts to suppress the vote of Black, Latinx, and other minority-community voters. Democracy Defended captures and analyzes LDF’s work during the 2020 election season, including our Prepared to Vote and Voting Rights Defender initiatives. It provides documentation of barriers faced by Black voters in PTV/VRD focus states and solutions for policy makers, election administrators, and community members to implement to ensure fair access to the vote in future elections.