POLITICS

New York Lawmakers Approve Early Voting And Other Voting Reforms

Despite its reputation as a progressive state, New York's election laws are extremely restrictive.

New York lawmakers approved a group of voting reform measures on Monday, putting a state where election reform has long stalled on the precipice of easing access to the ballot box.

Lawmakers passed a series of bills Monday that include establishing an early voting period, consolidating primary dates, automatically updating voter registrations when people move, and allowing 16- and 17-year-olds to pre-register to vote. Despite its reputation as a progressive state, New York stuck out for its abysmal voter turnout and not having early voting, a practice in place in some deep red states. It was also the only state in the country in 2018 to have separate primaries for state and federal offices.

The early voting bill required each county to establish an early voting period that begins 10 days before election day and concludes two days before it. That period must include two full weekends and counties must establish one early voting site for every 50,000 voters up to seven sites, but could vote to authorize more. 

The New York State Capitol building in Albany, New York.
The New York State Capitol building in Albany, New York.

Another bill passed Monday would require the state to automatically update people’s voter registration when they moved and notify officials of their change of address. Outside of New York City, when someone moved from one county to another, they had to submit a new registration by the voter registration deadline form to vote at their new address. The bill passed Monday makes it so residents no longer have to submit a new form.

Last year, Democrats passed voting reforms in the state assembly, only to see them die in the Republican-controlled state senate. But when Democrats took control of the upper chamber in November, giving them control of both chambers of the legislature and the governor’s mansion, they pledged to pass voting reform. Rich Azzopardi, a spokesman for Gov. Andrew Cuomo (D), told HuffPost Friday the governor intends to sign the bills into law.

The state senate also approved resolutions for constitutional amendments to let people vote absentee without an excuse and to eliminate a 10-day cutoff for registering for elections. The latter measure is necessary to implement same day registration. Lawmakers will need to pass those amendments in the next legislative session, which begins in 2021, in order to send them to the ballot for voters to approve.

Debating the measures on the floor on Monday State Sen. Catharine Young (R) argued that many of the measures would open the door to election fraud and would be costly to implement. Democrats pushed back on those suggestions, noting that voter fraud is extremely rare

While activists praised the reforms the lawmakers passed Monday, they are still seeking a number of reforms. Those further reforms include automatic voter registration, automatically restoring voting rights to felons once they are released from prison and getting rid of the state’s extremely early deadline for switching party affiliation to vote in a primary.

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