Gov. Cuomo signs major voting reforms

Voters Guide
Photo courtesy of the Governor’s Office

Governor Andrew Cuomo signed legislation today that implements major changes to the state’s voting and election laws.On Thursday, Cuomo signed five new laws that enacts early voting in New York, synchronizes state and federal elections, preserves enrollment status for those who move to a new county, allows 16- and 17-year-olds to pre-register to vote and limits campaign contributions from LLCs to $5,000.

“At a time when the federal government is doing everything it can to disenfranchise voters, we are breaking down the barriers that have discouraged too many generations of New Yorkers from exercising their right to vote,” Cuomo said.

Two constitutional amendments that will be up for voter approval later this year would allow same-day voter registration across New York and eliminate the requirement for voters to provide a “qualifying reason” for using an absentee ballot.

These are the first bills passed by the Legislature this session.

“Government should be about breaking down barriers. We need more voices in our democracy, not fewer,” said Senate Majority Leader Andrea Stewart-Cousins. “Other states have taken the lead on issues like early voting, same-day registration, pre-registration, and no-excuse absentee voting. It is time for New York State to catch up.”

One of the bills signed Thursday will close the LLC loophole by limiting political spending by an LLC to a total of $5,000 annually, which is the same limit as corporations. The bill will also require the disclosure of direct and indirect membership interests in the LLC making a contribution, and for the contribution to be attributed to that individual.

“Until today, our state has had some of the worst election laws in the country, making it unnecessarily difficult to vote and allowing special interests to drown out the voices of millions of New Yorkers,” said Sen. Brian Kavanagh, a member of the Senate Elections Committee. “Closing the LLC Loophole — the most egregious defect in our campaign finance system — will cut off an enormous flow of unlimited, often virtually anonymous campaign contributions that have allowed certain individuals and narrow business interests to buy influence wholesale.”

The other bills signed Thursday will change how New Yorkers participate in statewide elections going forward.

Supporters of the early voting legislation say it will make voting more convenient for those whose work or family obligations make it difficult to physically get to the polls while reducing the wait times at polling places on Election Day. Additionally, young voters will now automatically be registered on their 18th birthday if they preregister under the new system.

Another new law aims to reduce the number of elections. Currently, New York state holds separate primary elections for state and federal elections, and in some years, New York holds four different elections. This can be confusing to voters and expensive for the state, counties and local governments that administer the elections.

The fourth bill signed Thursday will ensure that when a voter moves from one county to another, his or her voter registration will transfer with them. Previously, a person moving into a new county was required to register there, as if for the first time.

Cuomo’s 2020 Executive Budget proposes several additional measures to modernize New York’s voting laws that include opening polling places before noon in primary elections held upstate; making Election Day a state holiday; automatically registering all New York adults to vote, unless they opt-out; and banning all corporate contributions in elections.