State Legislature passes John Lewis Voting Rights Act, awaits Hochul’s approval

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The state Legislature passed legislation Thursday to strengthen voting law and dubbed the John Lewis Voting Rights Act.
File photo

The state Legislature passed the John Lewis Voting Rights Act Thursday, the strongest and most comprehensive state voting rights act to date. The bill now awaits the signature of Gov. Kathy Hochul.

The legislation addresses voting rights discrimination through a comprehensive framework that includes legal tools to fight racial voter suppression and vote dilution that are stronger and clearer than federal law or other state laws; a preclearance program bringing the most effective civil rights law in U.S. history back to New York by putting the burden on authorities to avoid discrimination rather than on voters to find and fight discrimination; expanded language assistance to limited English proficient voters; protections against voter intimidation, deception and obstruction; an instruction to courts to interpret the Election Law to ensure that qualified voters can cast ballots and have them counted whenever possible; and the creation of a central public repository for election and demographic data to promote transparency and evidence-based best practices for election.

On the federal level, the John Lewis Voting Rights Advancement Act of 2021 was proposed legislation to restore and strengthen parts of the Voting Rights Act of 1965. Particularly, it would have restored the Voting Rights Act’s requirement that certain states preclear with the U.S. Department of Justice certain changes to their voting laws with the federal government, but the bill never made it through Congress.

Both pieces of legislation — federal and state — were named after John Lewis, the late Georgia representative and voting rights activist.

“Voting rights are under attack across the nation and New York must protect this sacred constitutional right,” said Speaker Carl Heastie. “While other states work to disenfranchise voters and dilute votes, my colleagues and I in the Assembly Majority are committed to passing the strongest voting rights protections in the nation.”

The bill is co-sponsored by Bronx state Sens. Alessandra Biaggi, a Pelham Progressive who’s running for Congress, and Jamaal Bailey, a Baychester Democrat.

In the past New Yorkers have dealt with voter suppression, voter intimidation, language assistance failures, inconvenient polling locations and discrimination in federal, state and local elections.

In 2020, former state Assemblymember Michael Blake who lost a congressional primary to Ritchie Torres, addressed allegations of voter suppression in his Bronx district. There had been a polling site in Concourse Village East, at 158th Street, for 25 years that had accounted for the highest number of Black voters in the district. But, according to Blake, the site was suddenly changed.

During that same election, voting was delayed by an hour at M.S. 29, located at 758 Courtlandt Ave. At M.S .301, at 890 Cauldwell Ave., the line wrapped around the school and some people didn’t vote because there were an insufficient number of poll workers.

In 2020 there were incomplete or incorrect ballots, understaffed polling sites, broken scanning machines, absentee ballots that didn’t arrive in the mail and many other voting issues in NYC. Additionally, in 2016, 200,000 Brooklyn voters found their names deleted from voter rolls.

Reach Jason Cohen at jcohen@schnepsmedia.com or (718) 260-4598. For more coverage, follow us on Twitter, Facebook and Instagram @bronxtimes

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