New York Poised to Enact Sweeping Election Reforms

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New York State’s legislature is poised to enact sweeping election reforms which will improve the election experience for voters and streamline the election calendar. The Democrat and Chronicle has more:

The state Legislature on Monday is expected to approve a series of reforms to New York’s antiquated voting laws.

They include early voting, same-day voting, voting by mail and holding federal and state primaries on the same day…

The measures are backed by Gov. Andrew Cuomo as the Democratic-led Legislature plans Monday to start passing bills to kick off the six-month legislative session. Democrats this year control all of state government for the first time since 2010.

“Our majority is hitting the ground running, and our first priority is to make our democracy work,” Senate Majority Leader Andrea Stewart-Cousins, D-Yonkers, said in a statement.

“State government needs to empower New Yorkers to exercise their Constitutional right to vote, and that is exactly what the Senate Democratic Majority is going to do.”

Here are the bills expected to pass and what they will mean for New Yorkers:

Early voting

Thirty-seven states let residents vote in advance of Election Day. But not New York.

That will likely change this fall.

The bill set for approval Monday would establish a nine-day early voting period running until the Sunday before Election Day.

“Those who are unable to vote on election day should not be excluded from participating in the democratic process merely because they are unavailable on a single day,” the bill says.

It would take effect in time for this November’s elections. The measure would also prescribe some weekend hours so people can vote early.

County election boards, based on their size, would have flexibility as to the number of polling places they would have to have — with a maximum of seven sites required.

But the state Association of Counties said it opposes the measure unless “there is a full state funding commitment to support its implementation.”

One proposal would clarify the state election calendar and end the costly practice of running federal and state primaries on different days:

Joint primaries

In recent years, the state Legislature has been unable to come to an agreement on when to have state and federal primaries.

As a result, the courts in 2016 set the fourth Tuesday of June as the primary date for non-presidential federal races, such as for the U.S. House or Senate.

But the state kept the second Tuesday in September for state primaries, such as those for the Legislature.

The new bill would consolidate the primaries into that fourth Tuesday of June.

The bill says it would save counties and the state about $25 million by joining the two dates.

Two other proposals will expand registration and bring New York into step with the large majority of states on pre-Election Day voting, though some of these will require constitutional changes:

Young people

The voting age is 18, but that doesn’t mean young people shouldn’t be able to preregister prior to turning 18, advocates said.

bill set for approval Monday would allow 16- and 17-year-olds to preregister so they are already in the election system when they turn 18.

About 13 states already allow it, and young people would be able to register when they go to the Department of Motor Vehicles to apply for a driver’s license, according to the bill.

The goal, supporters said, would be to get more people registered and voting, saying just 47 percent of New Yorkers between ages of 18 and 24 were registered to vote in 2010.

“Getting young people involved in the election process allows them to form the habit of voting and contribute to civic life early,” the bill says.

Voting by mail or same-day registration

The package of legislation also includes letting residents vote by mail and register to vote on Election Day.

But both of those would not be immediate changes. They would require changes to the state constitution.

And to change the state constitution, the measures will be need to be passed by two consecutively elected legislatures and voted on by the public.

So the earliest those bills could head to voters is 2021.

The constitutional change would remove a requirement that voters register at least 10 days before Election Day. Eighteen states already allow same-day voting.

“With voter turnout at an all-time low, allowing same-day registration would increase and encourage greater participation,” the bill states.

Meanwhile, New York only allows absentee voting if a person expects to be away from home or is ill.

But 28 states let registered voters vote by mail, regardless of the reason. 

So the constitutional change would establish “no-excuse absentee voting” to “give voters the opportunity to cast their ballot in whatever way each finds most comfortable,” according to the bill.

There’s one other change that lawmakers want to adopt that wouldn’t need a constitutional change.

Voters who move within the state would not need to reregister to vote in their new county — which is currently the requirement.

The Governor isn’t getting everything he wants, however:

One proposal didn’t make the cut, though.

Cuomo proposed making Election Day a state holiday to encourage voting.

But the Legislature is not expected to take it up Monday.

If these bills pass as expected, it will bring New York election more into step with the rest of the nation – although as noted above, there will be considerable distance to travel before some laws (early voting/same-day registration) are formally approved and others (early voting) are negotiated with local election officials. Still, it’s a sign of progress for the Empire State, which has long lagged the rest of the nation on many aspects of election administration. Stay tuned …

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