By Andrea Pineda-Salgado

Voting rights have come a long way since New York City first began holding elections in the 1800s. Obstacles that prevented New Yorkers from voting, like the requirement to own land, are long gone. Yet, some New Yorkers still find it difficult to cast their ballots. Long and time-consuming poll lines, malfunctioning voting machines and language barriers can discourage New Yorkers from voting. However, some recent legislation will make it easier for everyone’s voice to be heard. 

Non-citizens will get the right to vote in some elections starting in 2023. Nearly 800,000 green card holders will be able to vote for City Council and other local offices. Just last week, the New York State Assembly passed the John R. Lewis Voting Rights Act of New York (NYVRA). This landmark legislation was proposed after the 2020 election to root out discrimination and restore protections the Voting Rights Act of 1965, that was followed by the Supreme Court’s Shelby v. Holder decision in 2013. In short, the Shelby v. Holder decision said that section 5, or the Voting Rights Act — which required juris­dic­tions with a history of discrim­in­a­tion to submit any proposed changes in voting proced­ures to the U.S. Depart­ment of Justice or a federal district court in D.C. before it goes into effect to ensure the change would not harm minor­ity voters — was useless. To combat this, according to the Legal Defense Fund, the new bill will ensure protections such as:

  • A “preclearance” program that requires local governments with records of discrimination to prove that proposed voting changes will not harm voters of color before they can go into effect.
  • Provide new legal tools to fight discriminatory voting provisions in court.
  • Expand language assistance for voters with limited English proficiency.
  • Create strong protections against voter intimidation, deception or obstruction.
  • Instruct state judges to interpret election laws in a pro-voter way whenever possible, so that close questions of legal interpretation are resolved in favor of the rights of qualified voters.
  • Establish, through companion legislation, a central hub for election data and demographic information that will empower officials and community members to ensure accessible elections.

Here is what New Yorkers have to say about what it takes for them to go vote and why they think it is important: 

Juan Salcedo Photo: Andrea Pineda-Salgado

“Voting is very important because voting is a right, if you don’t vote you don’t count. It’s very important. [In order to vote], I have to plan my whole day around it, I have to organize my schedule and errands I have to run to make time to vote. Luckily, the majority of places I have gone to vote have been accessible for me and my wheelchair. I also don’t speak English but they have translators. I have been voting for 20 years, it’s always been pretty organized. Voting, especially local elections, are very important because we will be voting for people that will dictate our future in our city. I would tell people who don’t want to vote to go and do so, it is your voice. Voting is your voice.”

~ Juan Salcedo, 60

“I’m biased with voting, [I feel] in the past three years of pandemic, even if you do vote, it hasn’t changed a thing. [However, it is important to vote in local elections] because that’s your closest proximity and network and if you want to improve your neighborhood, you should at  least vote for councilman, governor and leaders like that. It’s important to know at least where people stand. Don’t complain about not seeing change when you are not acting. My local voting place is close to me and I’m just the type that I’ll go out and do it. It’s your right and if you want to see change, you have to start by being the change and not expecting everyone else to make the change for you. It has to begin with you.”

~ Zee Q., 38

“I vote all the time because if you don’t vote, you don’t have a voice. It’s not that much trouble, but do I think my vote counts much? No. It’s more about having a sense of duty to do it and take advantage of the opportunity. I vote on all elections and local midterm elections are just as important because the Democrats have controlled both the House and the presidency for only four years. If you don’t have both of them in the Senate, you can’t get much passed so it’s really important as far as getting legislation passed and getting judges appointed and things like that. I don’t think my individual vote is going to make that difference but if you are going to vote, then you have a right to complain.”

~ Brian Ford, 63

Polling place at First Baptist Church in Queens. Photo: Andrea Pineda-Salgado

“I think voting is important, I’m actually a registered voter and I think it is about certain rights and freedoms. If you want things to change your neighborhood, voting is very important for that. Personally, I would like to change the issue of crime and all that. [It’s important to vote in local elections] because the decisions trickle down to you. As long as I have my I.D. I can go and vote, for people to say that Black people can’t vote is crap. We can vote, [if they don’t let us] we can post it on social media. It’s everyone’s voice but they can complain if nothing happens.”

~ Bruce, 54

Make sure you are heard in this year’s midterm elections. This year New Yorkers will have two primary elections. On June 28, people will be voting for governor, lieutenant governor and assembly members, and on Aug. 23, voters will choose members of congress and state senators. While the importance of voting is strongly emphasized, New York’s history of voter suppression can cause New Yorkers to feel like their vote doesn’t matter. Now that the United States is not in the middle of a presidential election, it may be tempting to sit out on a local midterm election. The truth is, local elections are extremely important and not only do they impact federal policies and laws, they also have a direct impact on your everyday life. Here are a few tips to make sure you get your vote in the ballot box:

  • Make sure you are registered to vote, the deadline to register to vote for this month’s primary has passed. Check if you are registered here
  • Remember where your nearest polling place is. If you are voting early, your polling place will be different. Find out what yours is and get an idea of what your ballot will look like here.
  • Lastly, be sure to stay updated on who your candidates are. 

Remember: Your voice is important, make sure it’s heard by VOTING.

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