Legislation To Level ‘Challenging’ Playing Field
The state’s top attorney wants to protect voters from intimidation at the ballot box, it was announced Friday, Feb. 14.
Attorney General Eric T. Schneiderman announced new legislation to restore accountability and ensure access to the ballot box by eliminating baseless and intimidating challenges to voter eligibility at the polls on Election Day.
Under current law, voters who are challenged at the polls are required to recite an oath affirming their right to vote. The challenger, on the other hand, has no such obligation.
Under the Voter Intimidation Prevention Act, introduced by Assembly Member Karim Camara on behalf of Attorney General Schneiderman, those who mount challenges to voters at the polls will be required to provide the factual basis for their challenge and attest their right to challenge a voter.
While these basic accountability requirements are already enshrined in law for challenges made during the time of voter registration, no such protections exist at the polls on Election Day. The Act will correct this imbalance and ensure greater access to the ballot box.
“Access to the ballot box stands as the cornerstone of our democracy,” said Attorney General Schneiderman. “As public officials, we should all be working to make it easier for people to vote, not harder. We have an obligation to ensure that all eligible voters are free to cast ballots inside the polls on Election Day, without being subject to harassment, baseless challenges or intimidating tactics. I thank and applaud Assembly Member Kamara for introducing our bill and taking a stand on behalf of voters and our constitutional rights.”
Assemblywoman Karim Camara said, “Many before us fought battles both foreign and domestic to guarantee the right to vote for all Americans. This legislation is designed to fight those who try to take that right away. We will not allow voter intimidation in New York and there will be no tolerance for the dirty tricks used to keep people from exercising their right to participate in our electoral process. This law will make those who think they can intimidate, think twice. We’re going to make it harder for them to act anonymously; and we’re going to punish them when they disgrace our democracy by using intimidation at the polls.”
During the 2012 and 2013 election cycles, the Attorney General’s Office operated a statewide Election Day Hotline and received numerous complaints regarding voters who were subject to baseless challenges inside the polls.
While creating an intimidating atmosphere inside the polling place, baseless challenges also disrupted and interfered with the conduct of the election. Many of those challenged were African-Americans, Latinos and other minority-language speakers.
The Voter Intimidation Prevention Act would require those who challenge the qualifications of voters on Election Day to comply with the same rules and procedures observed by those who challenge the qualifications of registration applicants and registered voters prior to election day. Additionally, it would require any non-Board of Elections mailings used to challenge the qualifications of a voter to be filed with the Board of Elections. Lastly, this Act would clarify and define what type of conduct constitutes voter intimidation.
Unchecked challenges to voter eligibility stand as one of the most significant obstacles faced by voters inside the polls on Election Day. Many of these challenges often are baseless, and few watchers are held accountable for their conduct.
Minority groups lauded the legislation. , “We support measures that will remove barriers to voting faced by Asian American and other language minority voters,” said Margaret Fung, executive director of the Asian American Legal Defense and Education Fund. “The Voter Intimidation Prevention Act can help ensure greater access for all voters on Election Day.”
Voters’ rights groups echoed the sentiment.
“Strong legislative reforms are necessary to make sure that all voters are provided access to the polls,” said Rob Richie, executive director of FairVote. “At a time when other states are focused on restricting access, New York’s Voter Intimidation Prevention Act stands apart as an example of legislation aimed at providing greater access. I applaud the Attorney General for supporting pro-voter election reform.”
To report a voting rights or civil rights complaint, contact the Attorney General’s Civil Rights Bureau at 1- 212-416-8250 or by email to Civil.Rights@ag.ny.gov.