Panelists Urge Attorneys To Fight Election Interference
Following claims of election interference in the 2020 election, state legislatures across the country are amending voting laws and election procedure to alter or eliminate regulations that were eased during the COVID-19 pandemic.
The Commercial & Federal Litigation Section of the New York State Bar Association held a panel discussion Thursday night on these new laws and their impact on access to the ballot box.
The event also included the awarding of Honorable George Bundy Smith Pioneer Award by the Committee on Diversity, Equity and Inclusion. This year’s recipient was Rep. Stacey Plaskett who represents the U.S. Virgin Islands in Congress. The award recognizes an attorney or jurist of color whose career exemplifies Judge Bundy Smith’s legal excellence and commitment to community.
Jerry Goldfeder, special counsel at Stroock, Stroock & Lavan, who moderated the discussion, told participants there is good reason to be concerned about the fate of our Constitutional Democracy.
“We are finding ourselves in this period that states are laboratories of anti-democratic behavior especially since the United States Supreme Court in 2013 struck down important provision of the Voting Rights Act relating to preclearance in Shelby v Holder,” he said.
The ruling removed federal government oversight over states that change election law.
The event featured Terry Ao Minnis, senior director of census and voting programs for Asian Americans Advancing Justice, and Amia Trigg, senior counsel at the NAACP Legal Defense Fund.
Breaking Down Barriers to Voting
“The integrity of an election is defined not just by how secure an election is, but also by how truly accessible, it is for all eligible Americans,” Minnis says.
Minnis shared research and census data showing a rise in the number of Asian Americans eligible to vote and increased enthusiasm by those voters to participate in elections. Voting by mail during the pandemic helped voters with limited English proficiency.
“They were able to vote comfortably at home, with language assistance from friends and relatives, without having to coordinate schedules to go to the polls together, “she said.
Nearly 64% of Asian American voters cast ballots by mail. Minnis says a fear of harassment or violence also keeps them from voting at polling places. “Asians are seen as the perpetual foreigner and thus assumed to be a non-citizen and trying to vote,” she says.
By the Numbers
Amia Trigg, senior counsel at the NAACP Legal Defense Fund, shared the startling number of new election laws passed across the country since 2020.
“We saw at least 19 states pass 34 laws restricting access to voting with more than 440 bills with such provisions being introduced in 49 states during the 2021 legislative session,” she says.
Trigg says many of the bills eliminated no excuse absentee balloting and voting by mail. Other bills restricted or eliminated drop boxes for ballots and banned assistance — such as providing water for those waiting in line — to voters.
The so-called “line warming” legislation in Florida expanded the definition of solicitation to prevent any activity seen as influencing a voter within 150 feet of a polling place. It does not address the need for more polling place, which would alleviate the long lines for voting.
“In non-diverse parts of Florida, the wait time to vote is 10 minutes or less, but in communities of color it can be up to an hour, if not longer,” Trigg says.
She says it’s no coincidence that these new laws are aimed at discouraging people of color from voting. “We know that many of these new laws and bills disproportionately burden black voters, in places where voter registration and turnout was at historic highs over previous election cycles.”
How You Can Help
Both panelists encouraged fellow attorneys to advocate for the passage of the John R. Lewis Voting Rights Act in Congress. They encouraged all attorneys to spearhead efforts to collect information if they are concerned about voting interference.
The Hon. George Bundy Smith Award
The evening closed with a tribute to the 2022 George Bundy Smith Pioneer Award winner. Bundy Smith was a judge on New York’s Court of Appeals and worked as a Freedom Rider during the Civil Rights Movement. He displayed an unwavering commitment to social justice during his 30 years as a judge.
Rep. Stacey Plaskett was recognized for her work fighting for voting rights for citizen in the U.S. territories and as an impeachment manager in the trial of former President Donald Trump.