The Senate Democratic Conference presented the second legislative package in their “resistance agenda,” this time to expand voting accessibility and voter rights in New York.
The package includes nine pieces of legislation to expand voting rights, including proposals for early voting, easier party enrollment, and modernization of voting methods, as well as a constitutional amendment to eliminate the ten day advance registration requirement.
Along with the legislation, the Senate Democratic policy group presented a report on New York’s voting laws explaining why voter turnout in the state is consistently one of the worst in the nation. According to the U.S Election Assistance Commission, turnout in 2014 was just 29.1 percent, compared to 56 percent turnout in an average of the top ten states.
According to the Democrats’ conference leader, Senator Andrea Stewart Cousins, D-Yonkers, voting rights have become a contentious issue for those who want to stay in power. “Unfortunately, there are those who don’t think voting should be easy,” she said. “And have chosen their own political interests over democracy.”
Cousins sponsors three of the bills in the package, including establishing early voting (S.2950), creating an electoral crime of voter suppression (S.2952), and the consolidation of federal and state primaries to the same day (S.3562). Currently, in order to vote in federal and statewide elections, New Yorkers sometimes have to go to the polls as often as four times a year. For a voter with a busy schedule and no option for early voting, getting to the polls can be nearly impossible.
The Deceptive Practices and Voter Suppression Act would fight against voter suppression at the polls, making it a misdemeanor to intimidate or scare away legitimate voters.
“I can think of few things more un-American than knowingly trying to prevent someone else from casting their ballot,” Cousins said. “What is more troubling is that you often see communities of color and more vulnerable populations, like seniors, who are targets of voter suppression.”
In order to make voter registration easier and more accurate, Senator Gianaris, D-Astoria, is proposing the Voter Empowerment Act (S.3304). The bill would establish a system of automated voter registration at government agency offices, allowing 16- and 17-year-olds to pre-register to vote, and moving the deadlines for registration and party enrollment.
With hopes to modernize elections in New York going forward, Senator Liz Krueger, D-Manhattan, has proposed legislation (S.4085) requiring a study by the New York State Board of Elections on the practicality of voting by mail, telephone or over the Internet. The legislation further requires the Board of Elections to launch pilot programs to try these varying options.
Similarly, Senator Kevin Parker, D-Flatbush, has proposed the Voter Modernization Act (S.3436) permitting same day registration and voting, as well as allowing voter registration over the Internet. According to Parker, the system of registration is inefficient.
“It is imperative that we move towards improving the voting process for the residents of New York State,” Parker said. “The proposed legislation will not only protect voters but also make the process more efficient.”
In addition to simplifying the registration process, Senator Daniel Squadron, D- Carroll Gardens, wants to ease the issue of changing party affiliation. The party enrollment reform bill, (S.2940) would allow changes of enrollment to take place 25 days after the voter applies for it, a timeframe which better coincides with strict re-registration deadlines.
In an effort to ensure that every eligible voter gets to cast a vote, two bills have been proposed as part of this package by Senator Martin Dilan, D-Brooklyn, and Senator Leroy Comrie, D- St. Albans, to expand and protect affidavit voting.
The first bill (S.4074) by Senator Dilan, expands affidavit voting by allowing the casting and counting of votes by voters in their proper county, but wrong voting district. The second, (S.1265) would eliminate requirements on affidavit ballots to include the voter’s previous registration address.
Lastly, in an effort to prevent quieting young voters, Senator Parker has also proposed a bill (S. 3092) to prohibit election districts from being split up when they include a college campus, where thousands of eligible voters from ages 18-22 typically live. Specifically, the legislation prohibits this practice when a college campus houses more than 300 students. It also provides for polling sites to be on the campus or university property.
Senate Democrats have undertaken this agenda to ensure that New Yorkers voices are heard, according to Senator Stewart-Cousins.
“The entire package will make it easier to vote,” she said. “From what we’ve seen coming from Washington these past few weeks, it is clear that elections matter. As Dr. Martin Luther King once said, ‘voting is the foundation stone to political action.’”