NY State Senate Democrats Push Voting Reforms

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State Senate Democratic leaders pushed a package of election reforms to make it easier for New Yorkers to cast their ballot.

The upper chamber’s leading politicians in Albany promoted 11 pieces of legislation to expand voting access, noting other predominantly Republican states that have recently worked to limit the political franchise.

“Unfortunately, just last year, 49 states introduced over 440 bills with provisions not to expand voting but to limit it. In New York, we obviously take a different path by becoming a safer haven for electoral participation for fair voting laws,” said Senate Majority Leader Andrea Stewart-Cousins (D–Yonkers) during a virtual press briefing via Zoom Monday, Jan. 10.

The laws include extensions allowing New Yorkers to still vote absentee in general elections and school district elections until the end of 2022, if they have concerns about COVID-19, a pandemic provision that expired in the new year.

The bills were sponsored by state senators Alessandra Biaggi (D–Bronx) and Shelley Mayer (D–Westchester), respectively.

Another proposal would push back the deadline for registering to vote from 25 days before election or primary day to 10 days, the minimum allowed under the state’s constitution, according to its sponsor, state Sen. Brian Kavanagh (D–Manhattan/Brooklyn).

The changes are similar to a pair of ballot measures that New Yorkers rejected at the ballot box in the November election.

The two failed referenda aimed to allow lawmakers to enact no-excuse absentee voting and same-day voter registration, and Kavanagh chalked up the loss to a campaign of “misinformation” by Republicans, who gained momentum in several local races two months ago amid record-low turnout.

“I share the disappointment of many that the voters didn’t approve that, because it is really an important reform,” Kavanagh said. “And I think it is something that we need to get back to get out there and persuade people that that is something that we need to do in the face of some significant misinformation, I believe, that was put out as part of a campaign against that measure.”

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New York State Senate Democrats pushed for a package of election reform bills during a Jan. 10 virtual presser on Zoom.Screenshot

A bill by Manhattan state Sen. Brad Hoylman establishes secure absentee ballot drop boxes, which have been an option for voters in at least 33 other states and Washington, D.C., the lawmaker said.

Brooklyn state Sen. Zellnor Myrie, who chairs the state Senate’s elections committee, sponsored a law allowing voters to register at a second residence.

Deputy Majority Leader Michael Gianaris (D–Queens) put forth a proposal that would ban political contributions in state and local elections by businesses that has foreign ownership.

The package did not include any reforms to New York’s patronage-plagued boards of elections, especially the New York City chapter which notoriously bungled a release of false results with 140,000 extra ballots during the June primaries.

Asked about the BOE, Stewart-Cousins said that the chamber’s efforts on election reforms is not over.

“The work that has to be done around this process is really never ending,” she said. “We will — make no mistake about this – continue to focus on getting it right, continuing to look at how board of elections operate, again, all over the state, and continue to make reforms and create opportunities for improvement.”

The bills passed in the State Senate Monday afternoon, but still need to be voted on by the Assembly before they head to Gov. Kathy Hochul’s desk for a final approval.

This story first appeared on amNY.com.

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