Amy Loprest takes a look at a number of reforms New York could make to modernize elections in Gotham Gazette, writing “some states are making strides to update their technology to get more eligible citizens onto the voter rolls and to keep the rolls accurate, but New York’s system is woefully out-of-date. Our paper-based system leads to typos, names missing from the poll books, and other errors which prevent eligible voters from casting a ballot that counts. Even worse, hundreds of thousands of voters have been illegally purged from the rolls, stripping those New Yorkers of their voting rights.”
State of Politics reports “An eight-month legal saga involving Western New York Tea Party activist Rus Thompson appears to have been resolved relatively painlessly Thursday morning. Thompson, facing felony voter fraud charges, pleaded guilty to the lesser charge of offering a false instrument for filing. His attorney said he’s not likely to face any prison time as a result.”
Albany area Congressmember Paul Tonko has signed onto Rochester area Congressmember Louise Slaughter’s bill to “move Election Day from the first Tuesday in November to the first Saturday and Sunday after the first Friday in November (i.e. Nov. 4 and 5 in 2017).” Matthew Hamilton covers the story in the Times Union.
After Attorney General Eric Schneiderman proposed a number of voting system reforms last week, the Albany Times Union editorializes on the need to enact the changes he suggests, but “Republicans who control the state Senate, however, have balked at making voting easier, worried, it seems, that it will bring out more minorities, who have historically supported Democrat candidates.”
Updating from our last coverage of this lawsuit, Pete Demola reports from the North Country “Essex County will appeal a ruling by State Supreme Court Justice Martin Auffredou last month that ordered the county to release electronic ballot scans and cast vote records from a recent local election.
While not named as plaintiffs, the Essex County Board of Supervisors voted to continue to fund and support the appeals process following a 90-minute executive session and a volley of lawmaker discussion on Monday.
The chief reason to appeal, said county attorney Dan Manning, is not to block transparency, but rather to safeguard the privacy of voting. “
From the New York City Campaign Finance Board:
The New York City Campaign Finance Board (CFB) has issued public funds payments totaling $182,419 for four candidates in the special election for City Council District 9 in Harlem. This election will be held on Tuesday, February 14. Polls will be open from 6:00 AM to 9:00 PM.
The CFB has authorized public funds payments to the following candidates:
City Council District 9
New York City’s matching funds program provides public funds to participating candidates at a rate of $6-to-$1 for contributions from City residents. For special elections the match applies to the first $175 contributed, for a maximum of $1,050 in public funds per contributor. The low-dollar match encourages candidates to raise small contributions from New Yorkers living in the neighborhoods they hope to represent, instead of relying on large contributions from special interests. For more information on the impact of the matching funds program, read the CFB’s report, “By the People: The New York City Campaign Finance Program in the 2013 Elections.”
Candidates choosing to participate in the matching funds program agree to abide by strict spending limits. To receive public funds payments, participating candidates must satisfy all eligibility requirements including a two-part fundraising threshold.
From the Attorney General’s Office:
The New York Votes Act Would Overhaul Reform The State’s Voting Systems And Procedures – Simplifying The Voting Process, Boosting Voter Registration, And Increasing Turnout
Provisions Of The Bill Include Early Voting, Automatic Voter Registration, “No-Excuse” Absentee Voting, Consolidated Election Days, And Improved Training For Poll Workers
NEW YORK – Backed by the state’s leading good government groups and elected officials, Attorney General Eric T. Schneiderman today introduced the New York Votes Act, a comprehensive reform package aimed at simplifying the voting process, boosting voter registration, and increasing voter turnout. The New York Votes Act will be sponsored by the Chairman of the Election Law Committee, Assemblyman Michael Cusick (D-Staten Island).
The New York Votes Act will dramatically update the state’s voting systems by adding early voting, automatic and same-day voter registration, consolidated primaries, shortened party registration deadlines, and more.
“Any law that makes it easier to vote is a good law; any law that makes it harder to vote is a bad law,” said Attorney General Schneiderman. “New York has long been a bastion of democracy, but our state’s current system of registration and voting is an affront to that legacy. The New York Votes Act will help our state become a national leader in protecting and expanding voting rights for New Yorkers.”
“As Chairman of the Election Law Committee, I am pleased to be working with Attorney General Schneiderman on the New York Votes Act,” said Assemblyman Michael Cusick. “This legislation, aimed to simplify the voting process and improve voter accessibility, will give citizens a better opportunity to participate in the democratic process by increasing voter participation across New York State.”
Many of the provisions in New York Votes Act arise directly from the findings of the Attorney General’s December 2016 report on the problems that voters faced during the 2016 presidential primary and general elections. The inquiry, which was undertaken in response to record voter complaints during the April primary election, found that voters encountered barriers to access erected by New York’s restrictive voting laws, rules and procedures, as well as by the practices and administrative errors of state agencies and the Boards of Election.
Read the full New York Votes Act here. Key provisions of the bill include:
- Automatic Registration of Eligible Voters
- Any designated state or local agency that collects information from a person who has formal contact with that agency as part of an application for services, change of address or other similar process would be required to automatically electronically transmit identifying information for that person (e.g., name, address, date of birth, driver’s license number) to the New York State Board of Elections (“NYS BOE”). Upon receiving this information, NYS BOE would then electronically forward it to the appropriate local Board of Elections (“BOE”) for verification and processing as a voter registration application. Individuals would have the absolute right to opt out of the automatic registration process by simply checking an “opt out” box on the designated agency’s electronic or paper form.
- Same-Day Registration For New Voters
- Amend New York State Election Law to permit a qualified person who is not registered to vote in the state to appear personally at the appropriate polling place on the day of any primary, general or special election, register to vote, and simultaneously cast his or her ballot. Once the registration is processed and vetted by the BOE, the voter’s ballot would be counted, and the voter would be added to the voting rolls.
- Online Personal Voter Registration and Absentee Ballot Applications
- Allow electronic personal voter registration, and online applications for absentee ballots, so that any qualified registrant can complete the entire voter registration or absentee ballot application process online via a desktop computer or handheld device.
- Create a System of “Permanent” Voter Registration
- Implement a system of “permanent” voter registration in the state by requiring BOEs to maintain and update the registration of any consenting voter who moves within the state and submits a change of address to the BOE or to any designated state or local agency.
- Allow Registered Voters to Change Their Party Enrollment Closer to Primary Day
- Allow already-registered voters to change their party affiliation up to 120 days prior to any primary election.
- Adopt a System of Early Voting
- Permit a registered voter to vote at the local BOE in the same county where the voter is registered, or at one or more other designated polling places, seven days per week starting two weeks before an election.
- Provide for “No Excuse” Absentee Voting
- Repeal, in its entirety, the current requirement that absentee ballots can only be obtained and cast by otherwise qualified voters if they meet one of several statutorily-enumerated justifications for obtaining such ballots (e.g., unable to vote at the polls due to illness or physical disability). The bill also would allow online submission of applications for absentee ballots.
- Ensure Uniformity of Poll Site Hours Across the State
- Require poll sites statewide to open at 6:00 a.m. and close at 9:00 p.m. during all primary elections. Under existing law, except for NYC and seven other counties, polling places do not open until noon on primary days.
- Consolidate Federal, State and Local Primaries on Single Day
- Hold all statewide primary elections on one day in late June.
- Enact Disaster Preparedness Protections
- Clarify and facilitate decision-making by BOEs during an emergency as well as communication to voters and participants of a caucus when time is of the essence to protect voters’ safety and enable them to vote when the emergency event is over.
Enhance Access to the Ballot
- Increase Language Access
- Whenever any local BOE finds that 3% of the voting-age residents of an election district have Limited English Proficiency, according to the U.S. Census Bureau, it shall provide ballots as well as registration or voting notices, forms, instructions, assistance, and other materials or information relating to the electoral process in the primary language of the population in question, in a manner that provides the same opportunity for access and participation as voters whose primary language is English.
- Protect Voters from Improper Challenges
- Require a good faith basis and supporting documentation for persons, other than election officials, who challenge voter eligibility on Election Day, as well as penalties for those who abuse this provision of the law.
- Restore Voting Rights for Citizens on Parole
- Restore voting rights to persons on parole or post-release supervision following a felony conviction. Restoration would not be contingent upon payment of fees, fines, restitution, or other legal financial obligations
- Enhance Poll Worker Training and Recruitment
- Require election commissioners and BOE employees to complete mandatory training within six months of appointment, and continuing education annually, with the curriculum to be established by the NYS BOE; and require NYS BOE to establish and host an Education and Training Institute to develop a curriculum for certified poll worker training and train-the-trainer programs. Reimbursement to Localities
- Reimburse Localities For Extra Costs
- Require the state to reimburse localities for any additional costs associated with the implementation of early voting, enhanced language access and expanded primary election voting hours as required by the bill.
“Voting ease and accessibility is critical to our democracy. Unfortunately, in New York State, we fall behind half the country because of our outdated practices. Attorney General Schneiderman’s New York Votes Act will help bring New York up to speed and ensure New Yorkers statewide aren’t turned away from casting their ballots as a result of senseless roadblocks. In order to have the democracy we seek nationwide, we must lead by example and create a fairer system here in New York,” said Mayor Bill de Blasio.
“Fair and well participated in elections are an essential part of our democracy. The Independent Democratic Conference has long been an advocate for making our election process simpler and more accessible for all New Yorkers. I commend Attorney General Schneiderman for proposing this comprehensive legislation that will improve and protect the election process in New York,” said Senator Jeff Klein.
“New York State ranks abysmally low on voter turnout, and that is the direct result of generations of red tape, voter disenfranchisement, and antiquated registration systems,” said Senate Democratic Leader Andrea Stewart-Cousins. “The Senate Democrats unveiled a series of bills to help address this problem, and we thank Attorney General Schneiderman for his dedication on this issue. Our democracy requires active participation from all citizens and together with Attorney General Schneiderman, we will keep up the fight to achieve that goal.”
“New York’s voting laws are a relic of the last century,” said State Senator Daniel Squadron. “At a time when Americans are concerned about the strength and future of our republic, New York should be leading the charge to ensure New Yorkers can exercise their voting rights. I was proud to stand with the Democratic Conference earlier this week as we unveiled an important voting reform package, and thank Attorney General Schneiderman for introducing this important reform proposal.”