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New York legislature passes voting reforms

ALBANY, NY — The New York State Senate and the New York State Assembly passed a series of voting reform measures designed to make it easier for residents to vote, and to increase voter participation.

One of the measures would allow voters to cast a ballot early, up to 10 days before an election. Gov. Andrew Cuomo must sign the measure before it becomes law, and he has said he supports early voting.

Under the legislation, each county would be required to provide a set amount of early voting hours over the course of the nine-day period before the election, but each county would have the flexibility to offer hours that best meet the needs of its residents. This measure may be in place for the 2019 general election. Each county would have to provide at least one early voting polling site for every 50,000 people. In Sullivan County, that would mean a minimum of two early voting polling sites.

Luis Alvarez, chair of the Sullivan County Legislature, expressed concern for the extra cost to counties. “Like our state leaders, I want as many voters coming to the polls as possible,” he said in a statement. “However, Sullivan County’s budget does not include additional funds for the significant costs of these new initiatives, like early voting. I ask that the state provide that funding, so that local taxpayers are not burdened further.” 

Another measure addressed in the legislation involves moving the state primary voting day from September to June so that state primaries will take place on the same day as federal primaries. Supporters say combining the two primaries, which is how primaries are scheduled in every other state, will be more convenient for voters and save millions of dollars statewide. This provision will also compel local candidates, such as those running for county legislative seats, to begin the process of running for office earlier than in past years.

The voting legislation also closes the LLC loophole, which, because of an interpretation of voting law by the NYS Board of Elections, allows limited liability corporations to make unlimited campaign donations to candidates in state elections. The legislation would restrict LLC campaign contributions to $5,000 per candidate which is the same limit that exists for corporations.

Two of the voting measures passed by the legislature initiate the process of amending the state constitution to allow specific voting changes. One would change absentee balloting rules to include a “no-excuse” absentee ballot that any registered voter could cast, not only voters who are incapacitated or away from the state.

Another measure began the process of amending the state constitution to allow voter registration on election day. The measures requiring a constitutional amendment would need to be passed again by the next session of the legislature, and would go before the voters sometime after that, but not earlier than November 2021.

State Sen. Jen Metzger issued a statement about the proposed reforms. “I feel fortunate to be part of this historic moment when the New York State Senate votes to pass election reforms that bring New York into the modern era and greatly expand voter participation in our state,” she said. “This package of legislation will do much to fix our overly restrictive election laws, which have contributed to New York’s low voter turnout compared to most other states.”

Some of the measures have been passed by the Assembly in the past, but were blocked by the Senate, which was previously controlled by Republicans. Assembly speaker Carl Heastie said, “I look forward to seeing these bills finally make it through the Senate and be signed into law in New York State.”

 

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