Governor Kathy Hochul signed The John R. Lewis Voting Rights Act into law on Monday, a bill intended to prevent local officials from enacting rules that might suppress people’s voting rights because of their race and championed by Sen. Zellnor Y. Myrie (D-Central Brooklyn).
“We’re going to change our election laws so we no longer hurt minority communities,” said Hochul 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.”
Lt. Gov. Antonio Delgado said that by amending the voter laws in the state, New York is providing all people, regardless of the color of their skin or where they live, with an equal opportunity to have their voices heard at the polls.
“As a Black man who represented a district in Congress that is nearly 90% white, in one of the most rural parts of the country, and as the first person of color to ever represent upstate New York in Congress, my experience is proof that voting can bring about change that once might have seemed out of reach,” said Delgado in a statement.
The law was named after Georgian civil rights activist and U.S. Rep John Lewis, who died at 80 years old after losing a battle to stage 4 pancreatic cancer in 2020.
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 U.S. Justice Department approval before changing voting rules, wrote the Associated Press.
The court’s ending of that practice, on the grounds that federal oversight was no longer needed, helped clear the way for multiple 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 in order to pass certain voting policies, said the AP.
The law includes protections against voter dilution, voter suppression, voter intimidation or obstruction through deception. It also expands language assistance programs for non-native English speakers and preclearance, which requires any changes to important election-related policies be reviewed before they’re implemented in historically disenfranchised areas.
An effort in the U.S. Congress to revive parts of the Voting Rights Act failed to make it through the Senate, said the AP.
“Throughout our history American heroes like John R. Lewis put their lives on the line to secure and defend our rights—not just their own, but yours and mine as well,” said Myrie in a statement. “They didn’t do this because our country was perfect, but because it was imperfect. They saw a future where all voters and all voices count. That torch has now been passed to us, and this is why I’m so proud to have sponsored the John R. Lewis Voting Rights Act of New York.”
Myrie said he was grateful to Hochul for signing this legislation and standing strong for voting rights. He thanked his co-sponsor, Assemblymemer and Election Law Chair Latrice Walker, for also leading the fight with him.
“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,” continued Myrie. “It does not have to be this way for any American. By enacting the strongest voter protections of any state in the nation, New York is leading the way to a more secure democracy that defends our rights and respects the dignity of everyone.”
Associated Press story by MAYSOON KHAN Associated Press/Report for America (AP)
Additional reporting from Ariama C. Long, a Report for America corps member and writes about culture and politics in New York City for The Amsterdam News. Your donation to match our RFA grant helps keep then writing stories like this one; please consider making a tax-deductible gift of any amount today by visiting: https://tinyurl.com/fcszwj8w