Velazquez, Meng, Jeffries Call for Voting Rights Act Fixes
Washington, DC – Three New York City Members of Congress today held a town hall focusing on the need for Congress to pass legislation reinstating portions of the Voting Rights Act. That landmark law was significantly weakened in 2013 when the U.S. Supreme Court ruled in Shelby County v. Holder that portions of it were out of date, removing important protections for minority and other voters.
“The right to vote is fundamental,” said Rep. Nydia M. Velázquez (D-NY). “When we are talking about progress on any other issue - access to health care, affordable housing, a cleaner environment or investment in education - it all starts with the ballot box. For these reasons, we need to make sure voters’ rights are protected and that will mean finding a way to legislatively reinstate the Voting Rights Act.”
“Participating in the democratic process is one of our most fundamental rights as American citizens,” said Rep. Grace Meng (D-NY). “It is imperative that we make every effort to protect voters from discrimination. I thank all of our panelists who took the time to speak about an issue that affects not only our communities here in New York City, but vulnerable communities all across the country—access to the polls.”
“We deserve a government of the people, by the people and for the people,” said Rep. Rep. Hakeem Jeffries (D-NY). “The right to vote is central to the integrity of our democracy and the ability of the people to determine who represents them at the city, state and federal level. Serious mistakes were made in connection with last month's presidential primary in New York City, particularly as it relates to the Brooklyn voter purge. The information obtained at our hearing represented a meaningful step forward in understanding what happened, why it happened and how we can prevent another electoral debacle from ever happening again.”
During today’s town hall, the Executive Director of the New York City Board of Elections fielded questions from Members of Congress. Among other topics, the discussion examined recent voting problems in New York City’s primary.
“This is not a theoretical discussion,” added Velázquez. “The fact is we do not know if the recent problems in the New York primary would have happened if the Voting Rights Act were still intact. However, we all can agree these issues underscore that our system is far from perfect and we should err on the side of more voter protections, not fewer.”
Under the Voting Rights Act, certain states and counties were previously required to clear with the Department of Justice changes to voting rules and districts before instituting them. The locations requiring this “pre-clearance” were selected based on previous patterns of voting discrimination with the intent of preventing rule changes that would block minorities and other vulnerable populations from voting. However, the Supreme Court’s 2013 ruling held that the selection process was out of date, thereby rolling back these protections for many areas, including the Bronx, Kings and New York counties. Democrats in Congress have since been calling for legislation to update the Act and reinstate the voting protections in a manner that passes constitutional muster.
Other speakers at today’s event included election and voting experts from the Asian American Legal Defense and Education Fund, LatinoJustice, the Brennan Center for Justice and the Center for Law and Social Justice at Medgar Evers College.