High hopes for early voting after budget funding is announced

Courtesy of the New York State Senate
The Ranking member of the New York State Senate Elections Committee, Senator Brian Kavanagh, at podium, is joined by fellow legislators and advocates — including the Brennan Center for Justice, Citizen Action of New York, Citizens Union, Common Cause/NY, the League of Women Voters of New York State, the New York Public Interest Research Group, Planned Parenthood, and Transportation Workers United Local 100 — to call for early voting in the 2018-2019 budget.

Following the announcement of several election-related reform proposals last month, Gov. Andrew Cuomo is pledging approximately $7 million in state funding towards his goal of instituting early voting.

The trio of proposals — which Gov. Cuomo outlined in his annual state of the state address— include the introduction of early voting, along with expanding automatic voter registration through various state agencies and allowing same-day voter registration. The 30-day budget amendment announced yesterday would provide funding to counties across the state to launch the early voting initiative, if agreed to by the New York State Legislature.

According to Gov. Cuomo, all three proposals are aimed at expanding access for New Yorkers, who often fail to show on Election Day. In 2014, only 29 percent of the eligible population here in New York voted, ranking the state as 41st in the nation for turnout.

“At this time of citizen alienation and outrage, the best thing we can do is let people know that their voice is heard, that they matter and that they can and they should vote,” Gov. Cuomo said in his address. “And we should make voting easier, not harder, with same-day registration, no-fault absentee ballots and early voting.”

New York is currently one of 13 states that does not currently offer early voting. Under the governor’s proposal, each county would be required to open one polling site for every 50,000 residents for 12 days before an election. Each individual polling site would be open eight hours on weekdays and five hours on the weekends.

The push for early voting has the support from a majority of New Yorkers. According to a Siena College poll, 65 percent of registered voters support the governor’s plan.

A group made up of government watchdogs, unions, churches and lawmakers calling itself the “Let NY Vote Coalition” applauded the governor’s push to ensure funding for early voting programs.

“The historic proposal of $7 million dollars for New York counties to offer some form of early voting, if passed, will put New York in line with 37 other states that offer some form of it,” members of the coalition said in a public statement. “This is a bi-partisan, no brainer: New Yorkers should be able to exercise their basic democratic rights without unnecessary barriers. This is [a] crucial next step in securing early voting for all eligible New Yorkers.”

The governor’s voting reforms also includes automatic voter registration, which would allow various state agencies to send eligible information to the county boards of elections for registration. Voters who wish not to have their information sent would be able to opt out of the process. As of 2018, nine states and the District of Columbia have introduced automatic voter registration.

Gov. Cuomo is also calling for same-day voter registration options, which would change current law requiring voters register for an election weeks, or even months in advance. The proposal would put New York in line with 16 other states and the District of Columbia which have adopted same-day registration.

The three proposals all address criticism leveled at New York over the past couple years in regards to how the state handles elections and registration. In 2016, presidential candidate Bernie Sanders and his supporters called for a change in voting laws that prevented many young people from voting.

New York Attorney General Eric Schneiderman addressed the critiques in a December 2016 news conference, surmising that New York’s registration system was outdated and limited access to voters.

“Here in New York we seem to have made it much, much harder to register to vote than it needs to be,” Schneiderman said at the time. “And this year’s elections shone a harsh light on the realities of New York registration and voting systems.”

None of the proposals have yet to be taken up by the New York Legislature. It is expected to have fewer obstacles in the Assembly, where Democrats control the majority. In the Senate, Republicans in control have expressed concern about similar proposals in recent years. Democratic lawmakers in both chambers have expressed their hopes to address the proposals this session.

“Voting is the bedrock of our system of government, and we must do everything in our power to ensure eligible New Yorkers are able to access the polls and make their voices heard,” Senator Brian Kavanagh, D-Manhattan, said in a statement. “For too long, our outdated laws have depressed turnout and disenfranchised voters. Some have been unable to vote simply because they can’t make it to their poll site on a single day. This year, we intend to end that.”