N.Y. State enacts significant voting reforms in 2019
In January 2019, the N.Y. State legislature passed, and Gov. Cuomo signed, significant legislation making it easier to citizens to vote.
As Senate Majority Leader Andrea Stewart-Cousins said, “Government should be about breaking down barriers. We need more voices in our democracy, not fewer. Easing access to voting and having New Yorkers exercise their Constitutional right to have their voices heard shouldn’t be partisan or controversial. Other states have taken the lead on issues like early voting, same-day registration, pre-registration, and no-excuse absentee voting. It is time for New York State to catch up, so we can once again lead the way forward.”
The new legislative package includes the following reforms.
• Early voting: Enacting early voting will make voting more convenient for voters with professional or family obligations that make it difficult to physically get to the polls, as well as reduce waiting times and ease logistical burdens for poll workers. The new law provides Early Voting of 10 days, which includes two weekends. Prior to this law, N.Y. was one of only 12 states that did not permit early voting.
• Synchronizing federal and state elections: New York State currently holds separate primary elections for state and federal elections. With the addition of a presidential primary every four years and a general election, this means that in some cases New York is holding four different elections in a year. This can be confusing to voters, wastes administrative resources, and significantly restricts voter turnout. The separate primaries for federal and state offices were a major cause of the extremely low voter turnout in N.Y. State. This bill will unify the federal and state primaries and ensure that voters only go to the polls once to choose their nominees. This change should significantly increase voter turnout.
• Pre-registration for minors: New Yorkers are not permitted to register to vote unless they will be 18 years of age by the end of the year, and by the date of the election in which they intend to vote. This bill will allow 16 and 17-year-olds to pre-register to vote, meaning that a voter will automatically be registered on his or her 18th birthday. This should make it much easier for people to register.
• Universal transfer of registration: When New Yorkers move to a different county, their voter registration does not move with them. This requires the voter to re-register with his or her new local board of elections as if he or she were registering for this first time. This bill will ensure that when a voter moves elsewhere in the state, his or her voter registration will seamlessly go with them.
• Closing the LLC Loophole: Individuals and corporations have strict limits to their political spending, but large donors have avoided these limits by donating through LLCs. This new law places the same limit on LLCs as on corporations ($5,000). It also requires the disclosure of direct and indirect membership interests in the LLC making a contribution, and for the contribution to be attributed to that individual.
In addition to these significant improvements, the State Legislature also passed two resolutions for constitutional amendments.
• No-excuse absentee voting by mail: The New York State Constitution currently restricts absentee ballots to individuals who provide a qualifying reason, such as absence from the county on Election Day or an illness or disability. This unnecessarily prevents New Yorkers from being able to vote by mail for reasons other than those currently listed in the constitution, or simply for convenience. This constitutional amendment will make absentee ballots available to any eligible voter, no matter their reason for wanting one, which will help make voting as accessible as possible.
• Same-day registration: The New York State Constitution prohibits voters from registering to vote less than 10 days before an election and still being able to vote in that election. In today’s world with today’s technology, there is no policy or administrative reason to prevent voters from registering to vote on the day of an election. This constitutional amendment will eliminate this outdated but formidable barrier to the ballot box.
Other issues under consideration for 2020 include:
• Making Election Day a holiday so people do not have to take off from work to vote.
• Automatic registration so people can register to vote when they get a driver’s license or interact with the state in some other official manner.
• Online registration so New Yorkers can apply to the Board of Elections in the same way they apply to the DMV.
• Ban corporate contributions to restore power to the people and reduce the power of special interests and dark money.
Reform Elections Now believes the State Legislature and Governor Cuomo have taken important steps to improve democracy in N.Y. State.