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Legislature passes early voting, other election reforms

After years of waiting, Democrats have finally advanced early voting and other election reforms in the state Legislature.

With majority control of the state Assembly and Senate, Democrats passed seven bills to bolster New York’s election system. The legislative package includes a nine-day early voting period before Election Day, consolidating the federal, state and local primaries, and placing a cap on donations from limited liability corporations to candidates.

Democrats have long pushed for many of the reforms. Before this year, Republicans controlled the state Senate. The bills received support in the Assembly, where Democrats hold the majority. But the legislation didn’t advance in the GOP-led Senate.

That changed this year. Democrats now hold a majority of seats in the Senate and made election reform a top priority. Legislative leaders announced last week that the package would be voted on Monday.

All of the proposals received bipartisan support. A constitutional amendment to allow for no-excuse absentee voting passed by a 56-5 vote in the state Senate. A separate bill that would amend the constitution to allow same-day voter registration passed by a 44-17 margin. Both measures will need to be approved the state Legislature in 2020 or 2021 before it’s considered by voters.

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Reaction from Finger Lakes Representatives:

Senator Pam Helming (R-Canandaigua)

“Today, the New York City led Senate voted to enact a number of extreme proposals that will change the way elections are held in our state and leave taxpayers footing the bill. I support voter reforms that provide opportunities to increase voter turnout and improve access to democracy. Unfortunately, while some of the titles of bills passed today may sound good, the reality is these bills are loaded with negative consequences. Some of the most concerning issues are the costs to our local governments, and the fact that there is no evidence to suggest this legislation will actually increase turnout. According to the National Conference of State Legislatures, (NCSL) Nevada’s change to early voting actually caused their citizens to participate less. In fact, in 2016, voter turnout there was 3 percent lower than the national average. The Boston Globe reported that Massachusetts found early voting has either had no impact or resulted in decreased participation.  

On the issue of cost, in 2018, NYSAC estimated each county would be burdened with a new $1 million unfunded mandate. However, last year the Governor only included $7 million in funding for this in his budget. This legislation was passed without understanding the fiscal impact and the burden it will place on our counties and local taxpayers. This is not responsible leadership and will not stem the flow of people leaving New York State.

These reforms could also increase the likelihood of voter fraud. This is something everyone should be concerned about, regardless of their politics. That is why we need voter ID laws to prevent political campaigns and partisan organizations from abusing same day voter registration and harvesting ballots.

Instead of making knee jerk legislative changes this session, we should be working with our election commissioners to develop common sense policies that enhance voter access and protect the integrity of our electoral system.”

Assembly Minority Conference Proposal (shot down by legislature)

The Assembly Minority Conference today presented proposals to help improve access to voting and relieve the financial obligations placed on localities. The proposals, which were rejected by members of the Majority Conference, would save taxpayer dollars and streamline voting reforms and logistics. Minority Leader Brian M. Kolb (R,C-Canandaigua) criticized the Assembly Majority’s decision to block these bills. 
 
“On the first day of legislative activity in 2019, the Majority Conference went back to its old habits – passing legislation that costs localities money and drives up property taxes, without providing any financial assistance from the state,” Leader Kolb said. “There are common-sense reforms that can improve election processes. But they can’t come with a steep price tag and they cannot open the door to potential fraud.”
 
While considering a package of election reforms on Monday, the Assembly Minority Conference introduced amendments that would:

  • Require the state to pay for any costs associated with the implementation of early voting and moving the date of the state primary;
  • Allow all New Yorkers to cast an early vote by absentee ballot, rather than implementing a costly and complicated early-voting program, which presents several logistical challenges for local Boards of Elections; and
  • Change the effective date of a consolidated primary to January 1, 2020, since there is no federal primary election in 2019.

The Assembly Majority voted against each proposal.

“New York State’s historically low Election Day turnouts have more to do with apathy than access,” Leader Kolb said. “Voters stay home when state officials are sent to prison, when the biggest government decisions are made behind closed doors, when their trust is repeatedly betrayed, and when those who benefit from a broken system refuse to take action. Changing election procedures and protocols won’t make a difference if Albany continues to operate in a manner that rejects the public’s input and insight.”

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