Funding for early voting excluded from state budget


Courtesy of the Governor’s Office

Despite months of lobbying by voting reform activists, local and county officials and good government groups, lawmakers in Albany failed to include funding for early voting in the final version of the 2018-2019 budget.

The completed spending plan, which was finalized early Saturday morning ahead of the start of a new fiscal year, does not include Gov. Cuomo’s proposed early voting plan.

The proposal, which was outlined in the 2018 State of the State address in January, would have implemented up to 12 days of early voting ahead of election day. New York is currently one of 13 states that does not have early voting beyond absentee ballots.

The proposal was favored by a majority of New Yorkers. According to a Siena College poll, 65 percent of registered voters support the governor’s plan to introduce early voting to the Empire State — including 48 percent of Republicans, 60 percent of upstate New Yorkers and 65 percent of suburban New Yorkers.

Lobbying efforts in favor of the plan were led by the Let NY Vote Coalition, a public watchdog group comprised of more than 30 organizations and public unions. In a statement released responding to the failure to fund early voting, the coalition pushed lawmakers to continue working on the proposal for the remainder of this session.

“Albany politicians have again missed a major opportunity to improve access to fundamental rights for all New Yorkers by excluding early voting from the final budget,” the statement said. “Thirty-seven other states already allow voters this right, which 67 percent of New Yorkers support. The continued need for major reform whether it’s at the ballot box, on criminal justice issues, or reproductive health, reflects a failure of leadership at all levels. Lawmakers need to get early voting done this session or face the consequences in the fall.”

Sen. Brian Kavanagh, D-East Side, also released a statement after a number of amendments he introduced, including one that would have enacted early voting, were voted down in the Republican-controlled Senate.

“Without early voting or other reforms, our outdated election laws disenfranchise New Yorkers who happen to be busy on a certain Tuesday,” Kavanaugh said in his statement. “They make it impossible for some eligible voters to make their voices heard — and that must change. When all eligible voters have a chance to cast their ballots without undue obstacles, our democracy works better. That’s why advocates from across the state, led by the Let New York Vote Coalition, have been calling for these reforms — and especially championing early voting this year.”

Kavanaugh said that in recognizing that this reform may come with modest costs, the proposal pushed for the state budget to include funding for early voting, to avoid imposing new costs on localities.

“To fail to enact early voting — as the Senate Majority chose to do last night — is a fundamental failure of our government,” Kavanaugh said.

Advocates across the state hope to further press lawmakers to continue working on the early voting proposal through the remainder of the legislative session in June.

Kavanaugh and other Democrats in Albany say they hope to continue work on the issue, while GOP leaders in the Senate have not yet announced further action regarding early voting.