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NY State Senate Passes Sweeping Voting Reforms

The state senate opened its legislative session with a bang by tackling the critical issue of voting reforms. What will change? 
Photo credit: Zellnor Myrie for Senate

On the first full day of its new legislative session on Monday, the New York State Senate passed seven bills that will radically reform the state's election system.

The bills include measures such as allowing preregistration of minors, voting by mail and imposing limits on campaign contributions, and aim to simplify the registration and voting process, create greater transparency and ultimately increase voter turnout.

"While New York presents itself as a progressive state, we have some of the most regressive and anti-democratic voting laws in the country," said State Senator Zellnor Myrie, who represents the 20th District including Brownsville, Crown Heights and Prospect Heights.

Myrie, who chairs the Senate's Elections Committee, sponsored legislation to permit New York voters to cast their ballots early in person during a designated period.

"Too many New Yorkers struggle to get to the polls because of work obligations, family obligations or other barriers," the senator said. "Early voting helps to ensure that all New Yorkers have the opportunity to make their voices heard at the ballot box."

Myrie's bill will establish a ten-day early voting period, beginning 12 days prior to election day. Addtionally, the bill will require the Board of Elections to establish at least one early voting location per 50,000 registered voters.

The state Senate also moved to merge state and federal primary elections into the same day, which officials said will save taxpayer dollars. During last year's election, New York was the only state that held separate state and congressional primaries, potentially affecting voter turnout. Moving forward, all primary elections will be held in June. 

Furthermore, lawmakers approved preregistering 16- and 17-year olds when they sign up for a driving permit so they would automatically be registered when they turn 18. Another bill will require the Board of Elections to automatically transfer the registration of a voter to wherever they move in New York State.  

In an effort to close the limited liability company loophole, which allows corporations to make unlimited political contributions, state senators passed a bill that imposes a $5,000 cap on corporate donations.

Lastly, the legislature began the process of passing constitutional amendments for same-day voter registration and no-fault absentee ballots to allow New Yorkers to vote by mail without having to declare a reason. The passage of the two amendments is pending upon the approval by a statewide referendum.

"We are consistently ranked among the worst in the country in voter turnout," said Myrie, pointing out that in 2018, New York ranked 45th among all U.S. states. "And we are one of a very small number of states who lack common-sense voting policies like early voting, federal and state primaries on the same day, preregistration of teenagers and other policies that would make it easier for New Yorkers to vote. Our voters gave us the mandate to take bold action to improve voting rights in New York, and that's exactly what we're going to do."

The bills are now headed to Governor Cuomo's desk who is expected to sign them into law within ten days.