Politicians from all levels of government gathered at Brooklyn Borough Hall on Thursday, August 8 to urge Congress to restore the Voting Rights Act.
Senator Kirsten Gillibrand, Congressmembers Nydia Velazquez and Yvette Clarke, State Senator Velmanette Montgomery, Assemblymembers Felix Ortiz and Karim Camara along with the New York Urban League President Arva Rice and the Puerto Rican Bar Association called on members in Congress to pass bipartisan legislation that would reportedly protect voters from discrimination and make sure that everyone has equal access to casting a ballot.
In June, the Supreme Court struck down Section 4 of the 1965 Voting Rights Act, increasing the likelihood of discrimination through redistricting, voting location changes, new voter ID laws and reduced early voting periods.
Gillibrand is also pushing for the passage of the Voter Empowerment Act, which would modernize the voter registration system; authorize an online registration option; authorize same-day registration and permitting voters to update their registration data onsite; provide additional tools to alleviate any additional burdens for people with disabilities; require all universities that receive federal funds to offer and encourage voter registration to their students; simplify registration and ensure that ballots from all military personnel serving overseas are counted.
It would also authorize funds for training poll workers and setting standards for polling place practices; require provisional ballots be available and counted at all polling places; prohibit voter caging and designating it as a felony; and protect against deceptive practices and intimidation
In addition, it would establish a national voter hotline to ensure timely reporting and corrective action of voting related issues; set standards for voting machines to ensure accurate tabulation and confirmation of voter intent paper copy verification and reauthorize the Election Assistance Commission to ensure that the highest standards are being met nationwide to guarantee fair elections.
The Voter Empowerment Act is supported by civil rights groups across the country including the NAACP, Project Vote, DEMOS, National Law Center on Homelessness & Poverty, FairVote, Common Cause, and National Association of Social Workers.
In a letter to U.S. Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid, Minority Leader Mitch McConnell, House Speaker John Boehner, and Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi, the elected officials aforementioned wrote, “It is absolutely imperative that members of Congress work expeditiously to draft an updated formula that would be worthy of the democracy we are honored to represent.
“Some lawmakers have already moved to reinstate voting changes that have previously been found to have violated the Voting Rights Act,” the letter says. “Now, more than ever, it is critical that Congress acts quickly to update and pass new legislation that restores provisions of the Voting Rights Act before these discriminatory voting changes can have an impact on the 2014 elections.”
Brooklyn Borough President Marty Markowitz said that he also supports the reform. “New Yorkers have helped lead the fight for civil rights before, and we must now continue that legacy in our efforts to restore the vital protections of the Voting Rights Act,” he said. “As we make strides forward for civil rights in some arenas, we can’t let this be a time to step back in any arena, much less the fair representation and equal access that the VRA has given Brooklynites since 1968. The Voter Empowerment Act will ensure that Brooklyn, and all of America, remains a place for everyone, from everywhere, of every background.”