Bill Would Place New Level of Federal Scrutiny on N.Y. Elections

The Albany Times Union picked up a story from the Medill News Service on the impact the new Voting Rights Act proposal could have on New York State. It’s definitely worth reading.

The new congressional legislation creates a state trigger where states with recent voting rights violations would be covered by the VRA for preclearance matters.

In New York, this raises an interesting question: would the new bill cover the entire state or just the three counties previously overed (The Bronx, New York and Kings). New York State has not had a Section 5 objection filed against it since 1992 when the State Assembly plan was rejected (but remedied within days). Many observers thought that the objection over a few blocks in northern Manhattan was politically driven because it was so minor.

New York City has had numerous minority language  violations found under other parts of the law and different counties have been sued by the Justice Department over Voting Rights Act issues.

Statewide coverage would require every county and municipality to seek federal approval before a polling place can be changed, a new redistricting plan put in place, or almost any other election law or procedure. This is far different from the previous Section 5 coverage.

Further, in New York City, half of the New York City Council membership is comprised of minority group members and minority candidates have been elected for federal, state and city offices. No redistricting plan has been rejected by the Justice Department for 23 years.

The proposed coverage formula provides that:

Section 4. Criteria for Coverage of States and Political Subdivisions Sets forth a new nationwide coverage formula that provides that a State or political subdivision will be subject to preclearance under Section 5 of the VRA as follows: Statewide Coverage Criteria An entire State can be covered if:

(1) 15 or more voting violations occurred in the State in the most recent 25-year period; or

(2) 10 or more voting violations occurred in the State in the most recent 25-year period, with at least 1 of the violations being committed by the State itself. Political Subdivision Coverage Criteria A political subdivision within a State can be covered if it commits 3 or more voting violations in the most recent 25-year period.

The author will undertake further research and post it, but it appears that if this bill, as proposed, would require the entire State of New York to be covered under the new coverage formula  because of the 1992 Assembly objection, at least through 2017.

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