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Voting Rights Act Decision Could Affect Local Election Procedures

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In New York, the Supreme Court's Tuesday decision to overturn a provision of the Voting Rights Act was swiftly and almost universally condemned, and while the city will see a potential change in how it can handle voting laws, many local elected officials and civil rights advocates called it a step backwards. NY1's Bobby Cuza filed the following report.

Last week, Albany lawmakers passed a bill allowing for the return of the old lever voting machines in this year's primary elections. Normally, before that law could take effect, the U.S. Department Of Justice would have to review it to ensure minority voting rights were protected. Now that step has been eliminated.

"It will make our life a little easier in terms of having one less level of review that we would have to undergo," said Frederic Umane, the president of the city Board of Elections.

Many say it also means less protection for minorities. Thanks to a history of voter discrimination in New York, including a required English literacy test, Manhattan, Brooklyn and the Bronx were put under federal oversight in the 1970s.

Advocates say while much progress has been made since then, discrimination now takes more subtle forms.

"If we have ever been in a place where we can actually say with pride that we are leading the western democracies in voter participation and voter registration, then perhaps we should be talking about getting rid of some of these protections. We're not even close to that," said Juan Cartagena, the president of LatinoJustice PRLDEF.

Federal monitors will likely still be sent observe city elections, and the ruling does not prevent lawsuits under the Voting Rights Act, though that is a more burdensome process.

"Under the new decision today, residents, New Yorkers, would have to go through a very costly, time-consuming litigation situation through the federal courts that could take one, two or three years and thousands and thousands of dollars," said Jeffrey Wice, an attorney for Effective NY.

Some, however, praised the ruling, saying oversight is no longer necessary here.

Former Bronx Assemblyman Michael Benjamin said, "New york has changed. It no longer looks like New York of 1970. There's no doubt that we've changed. It's a much different looking city. Many more languages are spoken, many more people of color have been elected to public office."

The Bloomberg administration had filed a brief in this case supporting the Voting Rights Act. In a statement Tuesday, Bloomberg said the onus is now on Congress to update the Voting Rights Act to conform to the ruling.

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