Lawmakers advance package of voting reform bills
by Benjamin Fang
Jul 29, 2020 | 4223 views | 0 0 comments | 285 285 recommendations | email to a friend | print
In preparation for the general election in November, state lawmakers passed a slate of new voting reforms last week in Albany.

The proposals to expand access to the ballot box now head to the desk of Governor Andrew Cuomo for his signature or veto.

“From the moment this majority entered the Senate and passed a package of major voting reforms like early voting, we have continually improved and expanded voting rights in New York,” said State Senator Zellnor Myrie, who chairs the Committee on Elections.

The package of bills includes legislation to give voters notice of any deficiencies in their absentee ballot envelopes, and an opportunity to fix them to ensure their votes are counted.

It also includes a bill to temporarily presume that absentee ballots are timely, even if they do not bear a dated postmark, as long as it was received and time stamped by Election Day.

During the June 23rd primary, many absentee ballots were invalidated due to lack of signatures , late postmark dates and other issues.

Another bill would temporarily allow the processing of absentee ballot applications prior to 30 days before the election, another reform which would have eased the absentee ballot count after the primary.

Other legislation would authorize online voter registration for the city, implement an automatic voter registration system through state agencies, and define the term “illness” for absentee voting to include a voter who is unable to appear at a polling site due to the risk of contracting or spreading a disease like COVID-19.

State Senator Michael Gianaris, who sponsored the New York Automatic Voter Registration Act, said the bill would automatically register New Yorkers to vote after an interaction with a state or local agency. The bill passed by a vote of 40-20.

“While national efforts to establish more roadblocks to voting increase, it is critical we make it as easy as possible for all New Yorkers to exercise their right to vote,” Gianaris said. “With approximately two-million eligible voters not currently on the rolls, automatic registration will make a huge difference in increasing our state’s voter participation.”

According to Susan Lerner, executive director of the good government group Common Cause New York and co-founder of the Let NY Vote Coalition, 19 other states and Washington, D.C. have already passed this reform.

“We can’t wait,” she said in a statement. “It’s time to let New York vote.”

The slate of voting reforms comes more than a year after Albany passed early voting, the consolidation of federal and state primaries, same-day voter registration and other changes that have strengthened voting rights.

“Now, following the first primary election during COVID and the expanded use of absentee voting,” Myrie said, “these bills will begin the work of adjusting our elections to the new reality and ensuring the right to vote remains protected now and in future elections.”
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