Fearing the conservative-leaning U.S. Supreme Court could further gut the federal Voting Rights Act, advocates in New Jersey want the state to take some pre-emptive actions to protect voters.
A multi-racial coalition is calling for Trenton lawmakers to pass a bill that would require local governments to get state approval before making changes to election laws — to protect voters of color.
A case currently before the Supreme Court could decide whether election rules should be “race-blind,” even if the rules disenfranchise communities of color.
“If they rule in favor of removing section two of the Voting Rights Act, or further gutting it, it would make it almost impossible to challenge discriminatory redistricting maps,” said Alejandra Sorto, campaign strategist with the ACLU-NJ.
The coalition also supports a provision that would require local election officials to provide voting information in more languages. Current election regulations require voting materials to be provided in a language other than English if 5% of the voting population speaks another language. The coalition wants to reduce the threshold to 2%.
“What if you speak Mandarin, Hindi, or Arabic? It might not be as easy for you to cast your vote when you don’t quite understand the language that it’s written in. And that shouldn’t be a barrier people are facing,” said Henal Patel, law and policy director with the New Jersey Institute For Social Justice.
Last September, Assemblywoman Verlina Reynolds-Jackson (D-Mercer) and Senator Shirley Turner (D-Mercer) introduced a bill making those changes, but there’s since been no movement.
Asked why Democrats, who have majority control of the Legislature, haven’t acted on the legislation, Turner said it’s not an urgent priority among party leaders.
“They say it’s on their radar, there are a lot of bills and we’re trying to get to it. But there are other bills that they feel that are more of a priority right now,” Turner said. “I believe that we’re going to get it done before the end of the year.”
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