Despite an increase in restrictive voting laws across the country, New Yorkers can enter the polls Saturday knowing their voting rights are safe -– for now. Legal protections for voters expanded this summer when the landmark John Lewis Voting Rights Act was passed, solidifying the state's Voting Rights Act, yet threats to voters continue to creep up in the court system. To ensure New York's elections remain transparent and equitable, good government nonprofit organizations are fighting threats to voters' rights through grassroots and legislative advocacy.
Earlier this month, The Brennan Center for Justice, a nonprofit organization noted for its legal and policy advocacy work, published its yearly report on voting laws, highlighting record-breaking levels of legislative activity around voting rights in 2021. Nationwide, 42 restrictive voting laws were passed by lawmakers across 21 states, with 33 laws including a provision that will impact midterm elections.
As November 8th approaches, court caseloads are growing over mail-in voting, early voting, voter access, voting machines, voting registration, the counting of mismarked absentee ballots and access for partisan poll watchers, according to NBC New York. In the wake of the 2020 presidential election, a partisan battleground has formed over the question of voters' rights, as former President Donald Trump spread misinformation about fraud.
To fight these threats, nonprofits Common Cause New York and Vote Early NY are working to bridge the gap between those in power and their constituents, educating New Yorkers on who is on their ballots and their rights as voters and advocating for revisions to voting rights laws. Jarret Berg, the cofounder of Vote Early NY, refers to the expansion of voter knowledge as an issue plagued with partisanship, stating that their organization's mission is twofold.
"We aim to hold the roles of a pro-voter 'Know Your Rights' civic education shop and a government watchdog," stated Berg. "Since laws passed in Albany have to be interpreted and implemented by 58 local Board of Elections, we wanted to make sure that the laws passed are implemented responsibly by the local boards in the spirit with which they were enacted."
According to recent reporting by Gothamist, these multilevel battles are ongoing for voting advocates, as Board of Elections Manhattan GOP Commissioner Frederic Umane outwardly disapproved of general information mailers being sent out to voters about the November elections. A Republican-backed lawsuit in Saratoga County is happening alongside this, seeking to challenge New York's 2021 absentee ballot reforms, an action that Common Cause and the American Civil Liberties Union see as an attempt to disenfranchise voters, according to their public statement on the matter.
Vote Early NY's organizational efforts to increase voter education aim to alleviate some of these partisan struggles.
"One thing that we started doing when New York enacted early voting and expanded the absentee ballot access during the pandemic, was mapping every county's voter access plan," said Berg, "so that we can give clean independent information to people about their rights."
Common Cause also engages in grassroots voter support through their work as field coordinators for the New York City branch of Election Protection, a nationwide network of organizations providing voter support through the hotline 866-OUR-VOTE (866-687-8683). Fighting misinformation and disinformation, Election Protection allows voters to call their hotline for polling information and report voter suppression at polling sites.
"New York is a low voter information state. Voters need as much help getting accurate information about the upcoming elections as possible, and nonprofits are essential to that process," stated Susan Lerner, executive director of Common Cause New York, highlighting the importance of nonprofit work in elections.
Information is invaluable for elections, and nonprofits are working on getting information to the people who matter most to them, New Yorkers. To Vote Early NY, misinformation's consequences are glaringly evident, as displayed through the 2020 general election 'Wrong Church' ballot disqualification.
"Nearly 14,000 New York voters managed to cast a provisional ballot in person, but at the wrong poll site. A few days later, the entire ballot is voided because of a technicality in our election law. Suppose you happen to be standing in the wrong place, even if a poll worker handed you that ballot and never told you [that] you're in the wrong place. It is voided. That's injustice," explained Berg.