Op-ed: No more delays, pass the New York Voting Rights Act today

QBP Donovan Richards voting rights
Courtesy of QBP Richards’ office

New York State is the birthplace to so many movements throughout nation’s our history that have reshaped the very fabric of society. From the first-ever women’s rights convention in Seneca Falls to the Stonewall rebellion in Manhattan, countless figurative and literal marches toward equality have begun right here in New York.

When it comes to protecting and expanding access to the ballot box, however, New York has historically lagged behind. But now is our chance to right that historic wrong.

It’s been more than 60 years since the voting rights movement was in full-swing across the nation, supposedly guaranteeing the right to vote for all eligible Americans. The Supreme Court has systematically gutted the Voting Rights Act in recent years, though, leading to Republican-leaning states across the country to impose draconian and discriminatory voter suppression laws that make it nearly impossible for some communities, especially communities of color, to cast their ballots. 

Democrats in Washington have championed the John Lewis Voting Rights Act, albeit unsuccessfully. We have a chance to pass our own version in Albany, however, and doing so has never been more critical.

The New York Voting Rights Act would give the state Attorney General authority over proposed changes to voting in parts of the state with a history of disenfranchisement, such as relocating poll sites, while also making it easier for legal challenges to alleged violations of voting rights for protected demographics. Efforts to discourage voter suppression, such as wide-scale voter roll purges, and to make the voting process more transparent are also in this bill, which would be the strongest voting rights act in the history of our state.

This indescribably important bill has stalled in the state Legislature, and there are just a few days for it to pass before the legislative session ends and we jump head first into this summer’s campaign season. So while we’re reflecting over the holiday weekend on the sacrifice of our service members in defense of our rights, I know I’ll be thinking deep about what the right to vote means to me.

I am the first Black man to serve as Queens Borough President. But if I had been born in a different state a few decades earlier, simply casting my ballot, never mind actually running for such an office, would have been next to impossible.  Meanwhile, my father only became a United States citizen in the last few years, affording him the right to vote which he had so badly desired for decades.

We must remember that voter disenfranchisement is not just a talking point. It remains a reality for tens of millions of people across our country, including here in New York. From voter intimidation to inadequate resources like language access to last-second poll site changes, there is still so much change that needs to happen before we can truly say our elections are free and fair.

So I call on my colleagues and friends in both houses of the state Legislature to immediately pass the New York Voting Rights Act and bring us one step closer to an electoral system deserving of our families. With this summer’s elections a few weeks away, we cannot afford to waste any more time.

Let’s finally be a model for the rest of the country to follow when it comes to protecting the sacred right to vote.