Over the Martin Luther King Jr. Day weekend, state Sen. Zellnor Myrie and his fellow New York Democrats have unveiled a bill that they're calling a state-level version of the federal Voting Rights Act, intended to restore some of the protections that the Supreme Court's conservative majority stripped away in its infamous 2013 ruling gutting a key part of the federal VRA.
That decision did away with the system known as "preclearance," whereby states and local governments with a history of discriminatory voting practices (mostly in the South) had to obtain approval from the Justice Department to enact any changes to voting laws or procedures.
The New York bill would revive that preclearance regime by mandating that all localities in the state obtain approval from the state attorney general for any changes to elections or voting, with a requirement that they demonstrate such changes won't have a discriminatory impact on any racial, ethnic, or language minority groups.
The bill also makes it easier to wage litigation against "at-large" voting systems in local governments that dilute minority voting power. Such litigation would prompt those localities to switch from electing bodies such as city council on a citywide basis to electing them by district, which would give minority groups a better chance to elect their preferred candidates.
Democrats hold full control over state government, meaning there is a good chance this proposal will become law.
Originally published in DailysKOS on January 24, 2020.