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Defending the Voting Rights of Communities of Color in New York

The NYCLU is a long-standing leader in the fight to protect every New Yorker’s ability to exercise their fundamental right to vote. Making the vote easy, accessible, and equitable is essential to our democracy, as it’s the bedrock constitutional right that protects all others. Unfortunately, partisan forces in the state persist in undercutting equal representation and fair access to the ballot via voter intimidation, gerrymandering, discrimination, and misinformation. Historically disenfranchised communities of color remain the primary target of these undemocratic practices, and the NYCLU continues to devote significant resources to defending their political participation.

In 2022, the NYCLU was instrumental in New York passing one of the strongest and most comprehensive state voting rights laws in the nation: the John R. Lewis Voting Rights Act of New York (NYVRA). This groundbreaking legislation goes a long way toward making elections fairer and more equitable. But even while celebrating this significant victory, we knew that implementing and safeguarding the law’s gains in the face of persistent voter suppression and racial gerrymandering would require vigilance and a robust defense. We are already seeing signs of trouble and we are taking action.

In February, the Nassau County Legislature created a redistricting plan that passed on party lines. However, the presiding officer refused to allow legislators of color to see the data and statistical analyses that were used to create the map. Using “cracking and packing” techniques, the map divides, marginalizes, and disenfranchises communities of color in violation of the NYVRA. Though residents of color make up more than one-third of Nassau County’s eligible voters, the legislature’s map only creates four districts out of 19 where Black, Latino, and Asian residents constitute a majority of eligible voters. A more representative map would include at least six, ensuring that these populations have a say in who comprises the county’s governing bodies. The new redistricting plan will govern the county’s legislative elections for 10 years.

In response, in August, we sued the Nassau County Legislature to gain access to the analyses it used to justify its decision to create these maps — ending a 30-year bipartisan consensus that its redistricting plans must comply with the federal Voting Rights Act to avoid diluting the voting strength of communities of color. The legislature’s lack of transparency and its efforts to evade legal protections for voters of color highlight precisely why officials must draw redistricting maps in full public view. New Yorkers must have access to the information they need to hold Nassau County officials accountable for complying with the federal Voting Rights Act and the NYVRA.

In December, the NYCLU, the ACLU, and our other partners applied further pressure by serving Nassau County with formal notice that its redistricting plan violates the NYVRA by diluting the voting strength and political influence of Black, Latino, and Asian residents. Per the new law, the legislature then had 50 days to fix its violations voluntarily, and in February 2024, the NYCLU officially filed a lawsuit against the county for violating the NYVRA.

The NYCLU expects to apply similar pressure in any additional counties that attempt to dilute the protections of the NYVRA. We must hold legislatures accountable to prevent further disenfranchisement of communities of color in the state. With the critical 2024 elections looming, we are using all the tools in the new law to ensure that their voices are heard at the ballot box. Fair voting maps are crucial to making sure that government works for all citizens, and our ability to uphold the protections we’ve won here in New York State will have a huge impact on other voter-protection efforts around the country.

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In the lead-up to the primary election in June, we published an updated Voter Guide with key information about voter registration, polling locations, absentee voting, and voting rights.

Banner Design by Artist Ambassador Jessie Mahon, @jessiemahon_