Opinion: New York Voter Reforms Have Arrived

By Judie Gorenstein 

Voting is about to get easier for New Yorkers.  New York has long been behind most of the country when it comes to voting.  Our election laws are archaic, making it difficult for people in our state to vote, and resulting in low voter turnout. However, both the Assembly and Senate passed 7  election laws bills last week. If Gov. Cuomo signs them this coming week as expected, the bills will become law . However, not all will become effective immediately and some will require additional  money to be added in the state budget.

What can new Yorkers expect if the bills are signed into law?

EARLY VOTING   will take place for the first time in New York.  ( 37 states and the District of Columbia have already instituted in-person early voting.) Voters will be able to vote at designated poll sites 10 days prior to election day.   Each County Board of Elections will follow the law designating the number of and placement of the early voting poll sites. The boards will notify their voters of the days, hours, and locations of the early polling sites. This act will take effect immediately and first apply to  the 2019 general election: i.e., early voting will begin Oct. 27 2019 and go through Nov. 3, 2019. All polls will be open Election Day Nov. 5, 2019.

PRIMARY CONSOLIDATION amends certain deadlines so NY is  in compliance with the federal Military and Overseas Voter Empowerment  ( MOVE) Act. Moreover, this act combines federal and state primaries in to one primary the fourth Tuesday in June.  This ends New Yorkers having to go to two primaries for federal elections in nonpresidential years and three primaries in presidential years, saving our  state about $25,000,000. In addition to cost savings, it should increase voter turnout. This act will take effect immediately although in 2019 being an off year election, there will not be a need to combine primaries as  there is only one primary day.

SAME DAY VOTER REGISTRATION would allow voters to register and vote on Election Day.  In order for this to become law, the NYS Constitution, which requires registration to vote to be completed at least 10 days before Election Day, needs to be amended. Changing the Constitution would require the same bill that passed this year being passed in both the Assembly and Senate following the 2020 general election  and then being passed by voter in referendum in 2021. Therefore the first time this could go into effect would be in 2022. Currently, New Yorkers need to be registered 25 days before Election Day.

NO- EXCUSE ABSENTEE VOTING would remove the  need for a cause to vote on an absentee ballot. Currently in New York, you can request absentee ballot for five reasons:  absence from the county on election day, temporary illness or physical disability, permanent illness or physical disability, duties related to primary care of individual(s) who are ill or disabled, patient or an inmate in VA, or detention in jail/prison awaiting trial, action by a grand jury or convicted of crime which is not a felony.  

Currently 28 states and District of Columbia allows voters to vote absentee without a cause. No-excuse absentee voting would also require a constitutional amendment and could not take place until passing both houses in 2020 and then passing a referendum in 2021.

PREREGISTRATION FOR 16 AND 17 YEAR OLDS.  Currently the only time 17 year old can register to vote is if they are turning 18 in that calendar year even if their birthday is after Election Day.  This new bill would allow 16 and 17 year olds to preregister. The voter registration form would be modified to include a space where there is an explanation of preregistration and allow for the registration  to be pending. This act would not take effect until January 2020.

STATE-WIDE VOTER REGISTRATION TRANSFER provides  the board of elections to transfer the registration and enrollment of a voter appearing on a statewide voter list  to wherever they move in the state. This would enable voters who move to a different county in New York to vote on an affidavit ballot even if their new county was not notified  by the voter of the change of address. Currently it is up to the voter to reregister in new county to where they move. This act will take effect 60 days after it becomes law.

CLOSURE OF THE LLC LOOPHOLE will change the  way that candidates can run and fund their campaigns.  This will eliminate the loophole which has allowed corporations to pour almost unlimited money into races through limited liability companies. According to this bill, each limited liability company that makes a contribution or expenditure for political purposes will need to file with NYS board of elections the identity of owners in the limited liability company and the proportion of their interest.  This act will take effect on seventh day after it becomes law.

The signing of these bills into law will be  a very good beginning for the modernization of New York elections.  There are still other changes that need to be made. In fact, Gov. Cuomo has some of his own legislation in mind,  including making Election Day a holiday, having online voter registration and expanding hours for primaries in upstate New York. In addition, making our ballot voter friendly and  lowering the enrollment deadline for party change would also make voting easier . The League of Women Voters along and other good government groups will continue to advocate for funding for change to cover the cost of early voting, monitor forthcoming regulations,  advocate for constitutional amendments that are needed for same day registration and no-excuse absentee voting, educate the public as to the upcoming changes in laws, and continue lobbying for new laws to enfranchise all voters. Our democracy works best when everyone participates.      

   Judie Gorenstein is Voter Service Chair of the League of Women Voters in New York State


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