New York state lawmakers are poised to finally approve a major overhaul of election rules aimed at expanding voting and tilting the law in favor of voters.
The legislation, modeled on a Democratic proposal that stalled in Congress and named after the late Rep. John Lewis (D-Ga.), passed on Tuesday in a partisan vote in the Democratic-controlled state Senate. State legislatures, also under Democratic control, are expected to take measures by the end of the week.
Gov. Kathy Hochul (D) has said she will sign the bill once it finally passes.
The companion bill would create a so-called pre-clearance program that would require local governments with a history of discriminating against minority voters to demonstrate that any changes they make to voting laws or electoral procedures will not harm voters of color before they go into effect.
The request comes after the U.S. Supreme Court struck down a similar provision of the federal Voting Rights Act that forced states and cities with a history of discrimination to seek pre-approval from the federal Justice Department before making their own changes to the election process.
The bills would add new penalties for intimidating, deceiving or frustrating voters. In a state where large numbers of voters speak other languages at home, they will expand language assistance programs for voters who speak limited English.
“This bill is the most powerful voting rights bill in the United States, and it calls on New York to live up to its highest ideals,” said state Sen. Zellnor Myrie (D), the bill’s lead author. “This is to preserve the foundations of the country.”
Republicans in the legislature and state GOP did not immediately respond to requests for comment.
Progress in New York’s voting laws has lagged other states for decades. As other states adopt early voting, absentee balloting or online voter registration, New York remains mired in the legacy of robo-politics that value smaller, more controlled voters.
In recent years, Republicans who control the state Senate and members of the so-called Independent Democratic Conference have blocked bills to reform and modernize election rules.
But a series of major mistakes by election administrators has brought new scrutiny to the voting process in what was one of the nation’s more progressive states, especially after Democrats regained control of the state Senate.
The new proposal comes after a series of disastrous mistakes made by New York election officials in recent years.In a glaring error, the New York City Board of Elections mistakenly removed more than 120,000 voters from the voting rolls in 2016 — a mistake that led to drop disproportionately Most Hispanic neighborhoods in Brooklyn.
Municipal Election Commission has has been at the center of controversy for many years. In 2001, it falsely double-counted thousands of votes in the Democratic mayoral primary. In 2012, it failed to count votes in the Bronx district amid a bitter battle between then-representatives. Charlie Rangel (D) and then-State Senator Adriano Espaillat (D).
In 2018, the committee’s executive director blamed wet weather for stuck counting scanners and the resulting queue of voters having to wait even after filling out their ballots.
Miley, who chairs the board that oversees elections, has promised voting reforms to reform the agency. Earlier this year, he told The Hill that other reforms were crucial amid a deadlock in Congress over voting rights legislation.
“We’re all working together, not just on defense, but offense,” Mairie said. said in an interview. “Only when we go on the offensive, when we fight the electorate, when we succeed.”