Strategic Initiatives – PROTECT & STRENGTHEN DEMOCRACY
Making Voting More Equitable for All New Yorkers
Voting is essential to a functioning democracy, yet New York has a notorious history and ongoing record of discrimination against racial, ethnic, and language minority groups when it comes to the ballot box. The result is a disturbing gap between white New Yorkers and residents of color in political participation and elected representation. From voter intimidation and gerrymandering to inaccessible poll sites and limited access to language assistance, too many obstacles prevent the robust voter registration and turnout rates that would make our state thrive. The NYCLU has long fought for improvements to the policies, processes, and practices that determine how New Yorkers vote—striving to implement a system that makes voting easy, accessible, and equitable for everyone.
Amid nationwide efforts to restrict voting, inaction at the federal level, and a judiciary that has gutted the federal Voting Rights Act, New York took a huge step in June toward making elections fairer and more equitable with passage of the John R. Lewis Voting Rights Act—one of the strongest and most comprehensive state voting rights laws in the country. It cements New York’s status as a pro-democracy leader in promoting equal access to the ballot box, providing the framework for other states to take similar action. Most crucially, the bill ensures that communities historically denied an equal opportunity to participate in the political process can cast a meaningful ballot without obstruction, interference, or discrimination. As a result, our governing bodies will include elected officials who truly represent those communities’ interests.
The Voting Rights Act’s comprehensive framework comprises enhanced legal tools to fight voter suppression and racial vote dilution, puts the burden on authorities to avoid discrimination rather than on voters to find and fight it, provides expanded language assistance to limited-English-proficient voters, and protects against voter deception and obstruction. The bill goes even further, instructing the courts to interpret the law in ways that make sure qualified voters can cast ballots and have them counted whenever possible, and creates a central public repository for election and demographic data to promote transparency and evidence-based best practices for elections.
The NYCLU was instrumental in supporting the bill’s drafting and devoted significant resources to advocating for its passage. We educated New Yorkers about the need for these strong voting rights protections, testified in support of the bill, and co-led a letter sent to the governor, speaker, and majority leader signed by more than 70 organizations urging the legislation’s passage. We mobilized New Yorkers through phone banking, virtual town halls, a lobbying workshop, and rallies—and through digital organizing and our social media platforms we encouraged thousands of supporters to reach out to their elected officials to promote the bill.
Now, we do the hard work of implementing the Voting Rights Act’s great promise while ensuring that its protections remain strong in the face of any efforts to dilute their power. We will challenge racial gerrymandering wherever we see it, as well as any actions intended to suppress the vote or disenfranchise minority voters. We will expand language assistance and polling access while holding election authorities and legislators to account for protecting the bill’s substance. And we will ensure New Yorkers understand the new protections we’ve fought for and know their rights in the face of voter suppression. Voting is our most sacred franchise and must be defended and strengthened. After all, it is the right we exercise to protect all others.