Voting rights advocates in New York this week have great reason to cheer. And it will be of no surprise to readers of this page that we unabashedly belong to that camp.
On Thursday, New York Gov. Andrew Cuomo signed into law a landmark package of reforms to improve New York’s outdated system of voting and elections. The measures amount to a radical overhaul in a state where voter turnout historically has ranked among worst in the nation.
Local lawmakers, including Assemblywoman Amy Paulin and State Sen. Andrea Stewart-Cousins, supported the changes to:
-Allow early voting eight days before an election;
-Allow voter preregistration for 16- and 17-year-olds;
-Allow voters to transfer their voter registration when moving in state;
-Synchronize federal and state primary elections on the same date;
-Close the LLC loophole to curb big money’s role in campaigns.
In addition, a resolution for an amendment to the state constitution will:
-Allow “no-excuse” absentee ballots by mail;
-Allow same-day voter registration.
An key revision is the scheduling of state and federal primaries on one date. Having to go to the polls just once in an election year should encourage people to vote more actively. And, the consolidation of primaries will reduce expenses for the boards of elections, which, since 2012, have covered payments to poll workers, printing ballots and transporting equipment to and from polling sites in both June and September every other year. The estimated savings statewide could amount to $24 million.
Another big win for New York voters is easier access, which will undoubtedly bring more eligible voters into the process. Early voting makes it easier for people to vote, and so will expanding absentee voting.
While these election reforms were sorely needed, they are by no means new. Similar proposals have been floating around Albany since the 1970s, according to the League of Women Voters, and many voting reforms have been strongly supported by the Assembly, but failed to win approval in the Senate. New York voters who went to the polls in November gave Democrats a majority in the Senate for just the third time in 50 years, which set the stage for the rapid passage of voting reforms.As Senate Majority Leader Stewart-Cousins said, “We need more voices in our democracy, not fewer. Easing access to voting and having New Yorkers exercise their constitutional right to have their voices heard shouldn’t be partisan or controversial.” It surely will help keep our democracy strong and vibrant.