New York Passes Landmark Voting Rights Law

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ALBANY, NY (AP) — The governor of New York on Monday signed legislation to prevent local authorities from passing rules that could strip people of their right to vote because of their race.

The John R. Lewis Voting Rights Act, named after the late civil rights activist who represented Georgia in the U.S. House, makes New York one of the first states to bring back a version of a known process under the name “preclearance” which was voided by a landmark Supreme Court decision in 2013.

Under the federal Voting Rights Act of 1965, states and countries with a history of suppressing the rights of black voters once had to seek approval from the US Department of Justice before changing voting rules.

The court’s ending of this practice, on the grounds that federal oversight was no longer necessary, has allowed several states to adopt new voting rules in recent years.

Now, local governments or school districts with a history of discrimination in New York must seek approval from state officials in order to adopt certain voting policies.

“We are going to change our election laws so that we no longer harm minority communities,” Gov. Kathy Hochul, a Democrat, said at a bill signing ceremony in Brooklyn.

“I am so proud to be here to sign this historic law. No state in the nation has stood up with the courage, conviction and power we have in protecting these important rights,” she said.

The new state law will also expand language assistance for voters who do not use English as their first language and also provide legal tools to combat discriminatory election provisions.

A U.S. Congressional effort to revive parts of the Voting Rights Act failed to pass the Senate.

Democrats who support the New York legislation have said laws like this are still needed.

“Last week, several important races across the country were won by people who deny the validity of elections and who will work to reduce voter access,” said Senator Zellnor Myrie.

Adam Lioz, senior policy adviser at the Legal Defense Fund, said the organization has been working for years to push this legislation forward.

“We believe this is a way for state leaders to step up and protect votes at a time when black and brown voters are facing the biggest assault on voters’ rights since Jims Crow,” he said. said Lioz.

The parties in New York that must obtain prior approval before changing election laws will be determined by state officials based on a formula and a list of conditions in the legislation.

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Maysoon Khan is a member of the Associated Press/Report for America Statehouse News Initiative. Report for America is a nonprofit national service program that places journalists in local newsrooms to report on underreported issues. Follow Maysoon Khan on Twitter.

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