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Gov. Kathy Hochul signs voting rights act into law

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“This is how we celebrate Juneteenth,” Gov. Kathy Hochul said as she signed the John R. Lewis Voting Rights Act of New York.

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On the anniversary of the day slavery officially ended in the United States, in a building named for a man who lost his life because of his fight for civil rights, a bill that seeks to protect voting rights for all that is named for a hero of the civil rights movement became law in New York.

“This is how we celebrate Juneteenth,” said Gov. Kathy Hochul. “We come together and we make changes.”

Hochul signed the John R. Lewis Voting Rights Act of New York at Medgar Evers College in Brooklyn. Lewis was a civil rights activist in the 1960s and went on to serve in the House of Representatives for more than 30 years until his death in 2020. Evers was a civil rights activist who fought for voting rights until he was murdered by a white supremacist in 1963 in Mississippi.

The new state law seeks to protect all eligible voters through protections including:

• Prohibiting enactment or implementation of any voting qualification or prerequisite to voting.

• Prohibiting methods of election that impair a person's ability to elect candidates of their own choosing.

• Requiring jurisdictions with civil or voting rights violations to "preclear" changes to election-related laws and policies

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• Maintaining statewide, electronic public voting and election data.

• Assisting language-minority groups.

Hochul signed the document on Juneteenth, the day enslaved people in Galveston, Texas, learned about their freedom over a century prior. State Sen. Zellnor Myrie, D-Brooklyn, said that same freedom and liberation has been a threat to the power in the country.

“The only thing that could match the inhumanity and the brutality of human enslavement were the subsequent efforts to keep us in bondage by every other means,” he said.

Voting rights for all Americans came 100 years after slavery ended through the federal Voting Rights Act. In 2013, a Supreme Court decision rolled back some of that law's protections, Myrie said.

“As we gather here today, we’re not just celebrating Juneteenth, we are celebrating our fight back against the attacks on our democracy,” he added.

Assemblywoman Latrice Walker, D-Brooklyn, noted that New York has a history of disenfranchising voters and communities of color, which included literacy tests and property ownership requirements.

“But today is a new day," she said. "We now have legal tools to fight against discriminatory voting practices.”

The act follows a series of moves in recent years that voting rights advocates say make it harder for people to cast a ballot, such as shorter early voting periods and fewer opportunities to vote by mail, Hochul said.

“When Republicans in Washington and state legislatures deny the right to vote and undermine our democracy, we do something here in New York," Senate Majority Leader Andrea Stewart-Cousins said.

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