New York passes landmark race voting rights legislation

John R Lewis Voting Rights Act will bring back a version of the process known as 'pre-clearance'

A woman presents her identification to vote through a plexiglass barrier, to prevent the spread of the coronavirus, on election day at the Matin Luther King Jr  Elementary School in New Orleans on November 3, 2020. AP
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New York Governor Kathy Hochul signed a landmark law Monday that intends to prevent local officials from enacting rules that might suppress people’s voting rights because of their race.

The passing of the John R Lewis Voting Rights Act, named after the late civil rights activist who represented Georgia in the US House, makes New York one of the first states to bring back a version of a process known as “pre-clearance”, which was gutted by a Supreme Court decision in 2013.

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

The court ended that practice on the grounds that federal oversight was no longer needed, helping to clear the way for states to enact new rules around voting in recent years.

Now, local governments or school districts with a record of discrimination in New York must gain approval from state officials to pass certain voting policies.

“We’re going to change our election laws so we no longer hurt minority communities,” Ms Hochul, a Democrat, said at a bill-signing ceremony in Brooklyn.

“I’m so proud to be here to sign this landmark legislation. No state in the nation has stood up with the courage and conviction and the power we have by protecting these important rights."

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The new state law will also expand language assistance for voters who do not use English as a first language, and provide legal tools to fight discriminatory voting provisions.

An effort in the US Congress to revive parts of the Voting Rights Act failed to make it through the Senate.

Democrats who back the New York legislation said such laws were still needed.

“Just last week, several important races around the country were won by people who deny the validity of elections and who will work to reduce access for voters,” Senator Zellnor Myrie said.

Adam Lioz, a senior policy counsel for the Legal Defence Fund, said the organisation had been working for years to push this legislation.

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

The parts of New York required to get pre-clearance before changing voting laws will be determined by state officials based on a formula and list of conditions.

Updated: June 21, 2022, 12:21 AM