Assembly Passes John R. Lewis Voting Rights Act of New York

Assembly Speaker Carl Heastie and Election Law Committee Chair Latrice Walker today announced that the Assembly has passed the John R. Lewis Voting Rights Act of New York to codify and strengthen the federal Voting Rights Act of 1965 into state law (A.6678-E, Walker).

“Voting rights are under attack across the nation and New York must protect this sacred constitutional right,” said Speaker 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.”

“New York must lead the way in ensuring that everyone has equal access to political participation,” said Assemblymember Walker. “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. This legislation sends the message that here in New York, your right to vote is protected.”

The federal Voting Rights Act of 1965 was passed to prevent state and local governments from passing discriminatory laws that denied citizens the right to vote based on their race. For decades, the law required certain jurisdictions with a history of discrimination to submit any proposed changes in voting procedures to the U.S. Department of Justice or a federal district court for preclearance. However, in 2013, the U.S. Supreme Court ruled in Shelby County v. Holder that the formula used to determine which jurisdictions required this preclearance was outdated and therefore unconstitutional.

In the absence of federal legislation to update the formula to prevent racial discrimination in voting laws, the John R. Lewis Voting Rights Act of New York would implement a procedure for political subdivisions to apply for preclearance for changes to any elections or voting-related procedures in New York. Under the bill, political subdivisions with a history of voter disenfranchisement, including local governments, local boards of elections and school districts, would be required to obtain preclearance prior to making certain changes to their election laws and practices.

Today’s legislation would also prohibit any laws, policies or practices that would result in voter suppression or vote dilution of members of a particular race, color or language-minority group. It would also establish standing for aggrieved individuals and organizations, as well as the New York State attorney general, to bring an action against a political subdivision for alleged violations and provide remedies where disenfranchisement has occurred.