Earlier today, Governor Kathy Hochul signed a legislative package to strengthen democracy and protect voting rights in New York State. This legislative package builds upon New York State’s ongoing efforts to improve and protect access to the ballot box for all New Yorkers, including last year’s enactment of the John R. Lewis Voting Rights Act of New York, the most expansive state level voting rights act in the country.
AUDIO of the event is available here.
PHOTOS of the event will be available on the Governor’s Flickr page.
A rush transcript of the Governor’s remarks is available below:
I’m really proud to be back here again to see some other students, and hopefully, they will be inspired as all of us were at some point in our lives to pick up that mantle of responsibility to serve others in many different ways. Certainly, public service, either elected or supporting elected officials or working in policy or the advocacy groups who are here today, and I want to give a shout out to all the advocates. Please stand up. Those of you who’ve been working tirelessly for years on advocacy reform, common cause.
I also want to acknowledge my partners in government here today. These are extraordinary people. You’ll be hearing from the Deputy Majority Leader, Mike Gianaris, who championed a very important bill for us. Also, the Chair of the Assembly Elections Committee, Latrice Walker, who’ll be addressing you as well. I want to thank her for her leadership. Senator Zellnor Myrie was not able to attend unexpectedly this morning, but he’s the Chair of the Elections Committee in the Senate as well. Some of our other sponsors who’ve joined us are Assemblymember Eddie Gibbs, Assemblymember Karines Reyes, Senator Robert Jackson, Assemblymember Jo Anne Simon, Assemblymember Monica Wallace. Let’s see, Shelley Mayer has joined us as well. Senator Bailey, I don’t have all the names here. Senator Bailey has joined us, but I want to make sure that we capture everybody and thank you. And Jonathan Jacobson. Jo Anne Simon, I think I said. I think I’ve got everybody. Anybody I miss? Okay. Oh, Deborah Glick. Oh my gosh, we’re in Deborah Glick’s district. I just wanted to give you a special shout out, so everybody knew. I’m not saying who to vote for next election. Debra Glick is your elected official. So, how’s that for recovery?
It’s a great day. It’s a great day to remind the world what New York is all about and who we are as a people. And this opportunity to sign a series of bills that showcases our commitment to one basic principle and that is democracy. Democracy and what that truly means. And don’t assume that democracy will always prevail. Oh, what this generation has seen, unprecedented. Never before such a blatant attack on our institution, our capital. We’ll talk about that a little bit more, but I also want to take us even further back to remind all of us, and truly all Americans, that the right to vote is so sacrosanct that throughout the history of this nation – this is still a young nation – thousands of people have put on uniforms to go off into foreign battles and defend that right. Blood has been shed on battlefields to protect our right to vote in our democracy.
Similarly, blood has been shed in our streets during marches and protests, as ordinary Americans stood up to protect that right. So, never ever take for granted the ability that we have to walk in and vote for our leaders without fear of losing your life or having to look down the barrel of a machine gun as people try to thwart those efforts in other countries. Don’t take that for granted ever.
We think about the progress of history. When Lyndon Johnson signed the landmark Voting Rights Act in 1965, and I know you’re all too young to have been alive then. He said, “The right to vote is a basic right without which all other rights are meaningless.” Think about how profound that was. And today, we’re here to expand and strengthen that very basic right.
And to the voters, you may not care exactly about the person on the ballot, necessarily. You don’t have to love all of us when we’re on the ballot, but also, the issues that are on the ballot every time you cast a vote. If you care about reproductive freedom, you need to vote. If you care about our environment, you need to vote. If you care about LGBTQ rights, you need to vote. Because all the rights we have, protecting our right to be safe from gun violence, ensuring that we can create new jobs, all of those are on the ballot. All of those run through the ballot box. Remember that. That’s why voting is so important. You’re deciding your own destiny by showing up to vote.
And what I need are allies. I need other soldiers to march forward in pursuit of this because it can slip away. Because as we’re seeing all across America, the right to vote is literally under attack. I could not have imagined as a child, that I’d be standing here as an adult having to say we have to fight to defend the right to vote in America. It is shocking. It is shocking. And we all saw, as I mentioned, what happened on January 6th a few years ago. January 6th is always going to be part of our psyche. When we think about 9/11, certain images arise, right? When you say January 6th, for the rest of our lives, the images of people dressed for battle, climbing the walls, breaking windows, attacking people in our Capitol, a place that I revered as a young staffer, a place that I was honored to represent my district in as a member of Congress. But beyond just what you saw, those violent images of our nation under attack, and would we still survive by the end of the day? Would the election be certified? That was in jeopardy during those fateful hours. But I want you to be aware that it didn’t end on that day.
There’s a more sinister, slow-motion insurrection going on. A little more under the surface, perhaps, than what we saw on January 6th. But it’s happening quietly in Republican-controlled state legislatures all across America. It’s happening. The Supreme Court also gutted the Voting Rights Act a decade ago. At the time, since then, 29 states, 29 states have already passed over 100 voter suppression laws. They’re not doing what we would do here in New York, which is expand, and bring more people to the process, and empower them. They’re stripping away these rights. They’re doing the exact opposite of what needs to happen. And this year – that was over the last few years. This year alone, the first half of 2023 – we are near day 260 of this year – more than 300 bills have been introduced in 45 states. All of them meant to restrict voting rights.
I’m a Governor. I know other governors have a lot of work to do. You are fighting to protect your climate. You’re trying to bring new jobs. You’re trying to build infrastructure. You’re trying to take care of child care and invest in education. I know there’s a lot of other things that need to be done, but to think that this is a priority in 45 states, that, “Oh, what’s on your agenda, governor and state legislator? Oh, let’s see if we can do more to take away voting rights.” I assure you, you have other things to work on, and start prioritizing what matters. But right now, as a result of these efforts, 160 million Americans live in states where it’s harder to vote today than it was just a few years ago. That is an indictment on our country.
You know, and it’s happening, you feel like it’s just being stripped away, kind of slowly, right? I read a lot of Ernest Hemingway. I like the short sentences. He wrote about how you go bankrupt. It happens gradually, until a point all of a sudden, it’s sudden. It’s the same about losing your democracy. The rights are eroded away over time and maybe you don’t quite notice it. And all of a sudden, they’re gone. That’s what we have to protect against.
That’s why we’re here today. And this well coordinated, well-funded attack is also an attack on the voting rights of marginalized communities, all under the pretense of maintaining election integrity. They’re making assumptions that certain communities are going to vote in inappropriate ways when in fact it’s simply a way to suppress the vote that they know will not be with them. I’m not being cynical, I’m stating a fact. Republican lawmakers are emboldened by what’s going on in their own party by the so-called leader, former president, who’s under indictment for trying to overturn an election, but this is their spiritual leader when it comes to voting issues. This is threatening the very foundation of our nation.
So, as we approach the next presidential election with a very different eye toward what can happen because we witnessed in real time how close we were to losing our democracy just a few short years ago and what happened on election day and how the results were denied. All of a sudden people are thinking, well, maybe there’s something to that. I mean, the intentional undermining of people’s faith in our system, it’s had an effect. People do believe that. There’s a lot of people who believe that today. These election deniers are still among us. So, as we approach the next election, the next presidential election, you have to remember, despite what we hear from former President Trump and all those election deniers and the right-wing media allies, it has nothing to do, all these things have nothing to do with widespread fraud or ballot harvesting. They made up a whole lot of words around this. They weren’t problems at all. They made them up. Conspiracy theories, distortions of reality, it was all supposed to distract you from the real assault on your rights. And they know because if more people vote, they’re more likely to lose. They want to keep the power in the hands of the few.
And the biggest problem we have with our system, it’s still too hard to cast a ballot. I know we talked about early voting for a long time – I always talked about the fact that our voting hours were often from 6 a.m. to 9 p.m. Sounds like plenty of time to go vote, unless you’re a single mom getting up at the crack of dawn, having to pack the lunches, having to take a subway for an hour to go to your minimum wage job, and then after school on the way home you might be stopping to see your mother or father who’s in a nursing home, and then maybe you’re going to go to your second job, maybe you’re going to help the kids with their homework, and maybe it’s after 9 o’clock when you’re home. Okay, is that not a description of life? Life gets in the way, right? That was my life, by the way.
So, we made it easier. I mean, New York has been trying hard. Our legislature working hard to say, why not have early voting, right? What’s so special about that one day? So, we have early voting. We want people to take advantage of the fact that ten days earlier you can vote. But we’re continuing – and this is what I admire about the legislature, the people here today. They’re constantly pressing forward, unlike the other states that are taking us backwards. Our legislature and this governor are going to take this state forward.
So, the communities that are under attack are the individuals who are having their rights stripped away, especially in communities of color, poor people, people with disabilities. It shouldn’t be so hard, and in New York, we’ll always be that beacon, that place that people revere the right to vote. And that’s what brings us here today.
In a few minutes, I’ll be signing an election reform package that expands access to the ballot box for all New Yorkers in countless ways. The new laws will build on the John Lewis Voting Rights Act we signed last year, which targeted voter suppression and deception and intimidation. I was really proud to sign that. I’d gotten to know John Lewis when we served in Congress together. What a great, great man. You knew you were in the presence of a man who made history and it was humbling for me.
Our laws are going to modernize and improve every step of the process. From registering, to casting your ballot, to the Electoral College. It includes a law that allows every New Yorker to vote early by mail. Thank you, Majority Leader Mike Gianaris.
Other states have done this. I mean, I wish we could say we’re the first. We’re not, because of all kinds of reasons. But today we’re going to right the wrong of the past and say it’s finally time that people can vote by mail. We saw it work during the pandemic. We can do this. We know that everyday people are so busy, I just described what a day is like. And it’s just, why not? Why not? What is so sinister? Why would this be attacked? What’s the problem with this? What are you afraid of? That’s what you have to ask those who are going to try and stop this, and I guarantee there will.
But the message is that people’s votes matter, people’s lives matter, and you don’t have to compromise to protect both. You can have the right to vote and continue on with life. So, you’re also fulfilling your duties as a citizen. We don’t talk about this enough. I think we need to do more in high schools and colleges and talk about citizen engagement and participation. What is our moral responsibility to others as fellow citizens in this great country?
It is not to say the status quo is fine because it never has been, never will be. But it’s because of people, committed people in this room that will always push us forward. That’s what we need to be teaching our young people. You have that responsibility. And if you don’t leave this place better in some way than you found it, than it was when you were born into it, then you’ve just been taking up space. That’s what I feel to my core.
So, you have to fulfill your responsibilities, your civic duties, but also to your children because your children are watching what you do. I dragged my kids to vote when they were in strollers, and I have adult children now and they’re enlightened. They know that they will never ever miss an opportunity to cast that ballot. They know that it’s sacred to all of us.
We should make it easier, so people don’t have to make that choice between voting in an election or missing collecting their paycheck. You know, a young waitress isn’t working the hours, she doesn’t get the tips, she doesn’t bring the money. She has to keep her job and she should be able to vote. She should be able to vote by mail, right? Why not? Why not?
So, we’re also creating same day registration. Very fitting, we just had national voter registration day two days ago. If I wasn’t having to give so many speeches on climate week. I would have done this two days ago, but pretend we did. So now you can register to vote and cast your ballot on the very first day of early voting.
As I mentioned, young people, civic education, part of that can be getting kids to register to vote when they’re 18. We’ve done that. But also, what about pre-registration? What about getting them thinking about this responsibility as part of the civic lesson, social studies teachers? Let’s talk about this.
So, we are signing a law today that’ll expand registration, pre-registration, and voter education programs in schools so when everybody’s 18, they are primed and ready to go. Primed and ready to go.
My children will tell you, on their 18th birthday, they woke up – next to their breakfast bowl was a voter registration form. That’s the kind of mom I was. There’ll be books written about me by my kids someday, I’m sure.
But let’s do more in civic education. Let’s get our kids ready for the world. Let’s make them be a responsible generation. We have that power now by taking these steps. And also, the fact that young people can vote. When I was younger, I saw my young uncles going off to fight in the Vietnam War. They were just teenagers themselves. Nineteen, eighteen. They couldn’t vote because the voting age was twenty-one. Think about that. You can go carry a weapon and perhaps lose your life fighting for America. But you couldn’t vote until you were twenty-one. I’m glad that changed a long time ago. But since that time, people have taken it for granted, and we need those young voices. I want those young voices because they’ll be powerful if we harness all the young people to vote in elections.
And so, I think it is important people understand the history of where we come from, the struggles, and honor those who have been there before us. And those who also have an encounter with the justice system. People that have been released from jail. There’s not a lot of information on where to go to register. You may have been disconnected from society for decades. And you’re about to be freed. Our jails will now be required to provide voter registration to people as soon as they’re released. Because when you come back, Eddie Gibbs, you should be able to participate fully in democracy, right? And I want to thank you for your leadership on this. Thank you.
We talked a lot about presidential elections. I’m signing a bill that’ll affect presidential elections. We’re going to crack down on faithless electors. Who knows what a faithless elector is? Ooh, sounds awful, doesn’t it? But these are people that the President at the time, President Trump, was trying to persuade to not fulfill their responsibility to cast their vote as they were required to do. Now, let me explain a little bit more. When you vote for president, you’re technically voting for a slate of electors. I was once an elector. New York has 29 because we have 29 congressional seats. When they meet, they’re supposed to elect the ticket that won, right? It’s supposed to be procedural.
But this is where Donald Trump and his henchmen were trying to figure out a way, like, “We can stop these people from casting their vote and really flip to me. I can win.” Oh, you can’t make this stuff up, but believe me, you’re going to see a lot of it over the next couple of years in court. But under the new law, electors who subvert the will, if they attempt this, the consequence is you’re going to resign. You will not be able to be seated as an elector. Bye-bye. Don’t even try it. Don’t even try it.
So, we know there’s going to be backlash, I can tell you right now, on everything we’re doing here today. This is New York, right? I’m sure people are lawyering up, right? Young students, it’s a growth business – suing the Governor of New York, suing our legislature, suing the people who are trying to do right by the state. That’s part of it. But the backlash is part of history. Let me explain before I close.
After the Seneca Falls Convention, anybody know what that was all about? All right, Seneca Falls, 300 women and a few courageous men, one of which was Frederick Douglas, showed up in the middle of a tiny, tiny community in Upstate New York. They were so angry, these women, they were so fed up with being treated like the property of men. They had their declaration, their sort of bill of rights, they called it. And the words are still on the wall when you go visit Seneca Falls, and you can feel the anger dripping from every single word. These women were not happy, and they wanted the right to vote. At the time I read this, when we celebrated the 100th anniversary of the right to vote here, there was a little newspaper called the Lowell Courier. Here I am reading the Lowell Courier, a couple hundred years later because I was so taken with the fact that what they foresaw if women had the right to vote, imagine the horrors.
Quote, unquote, “Who will wash the dishes? Who will handle the broom? And my God, who will darn the stockings?” Now I don’t know if a lot of men were walking around with holes in their socks after women got the right to vote, I never bothered to check. But this is what would happen if women had the right to vote.
I want to also talk about what was talked about with the Voting Rights Act in 1965. Senator Strom Thurmond argued that the Voting Rights Act would lead to deputism, despotism, and tyranny. Tyranny if we allowed people of color to vote in this country. That wasn’t that long ago. So, the point is, I’m trying to make it because you’re going to see these same dark forces unleash as a result of what we’re doing here today. It’s coming. It’s the same fear mongering that has attempted to stop progress throughout our entire history. The same arguments whenever we try to expand the right to vote. But I say this, “Go ahead, bring it on, because there’s always going to be more good people than not. We’ll continue to march toward progress together. We will not be deterred. And in fact, any challenge will only embolden us to do more because this is on the right side of history.” This is what you’re witnessing here today. Doing the right thing. Because voting, to me and to the state, is precious. It is sacred. And every one of us has a responsibility to expand it, to make it more available.
So, if you don’t want to expand the right to vote, here’s where you fall. You can either be on the side of democracy or against democracy. That’s how you’ll be defined. What do we owe the people who came before us? What do we owe John Lewis? What do we owe Medgar Evers, shot down in his driveway by white supremacists? What do we owe Elizabeth Cady Stanton, Lucretia Mott and all the other brave women who showed up at Seneca Falls. What do we owe these people? Ordinary people who did extraordinary things. We at least owe them to know that their lives made a difference. That our lives will make a difference.
And people look back at our time, will they judge us harshly, or in a way that says, “No, they took that torch that was passed to them by previous generations, and they made that torch glow even brighter.” That’s what we will be known for here in the State of New York. The people marched and protested, and fought, and shed blood. But ultimately, they made sure that we have the right here today to vote. That’s what we’re protecting. Thank you. Thank you.