State Assembly Passes Election Reform Bills

From Speaker Carl Heastie:

Egregious LLC Loophole Closed in Assembly’s New Election Law Reform Legislation

Reform Initiatives to Increase Voter Turnout, Improve Voter Access, Strengthen
Voting Rights Protections and Establish Efficient Voter-Friendly
Election Administration and Registration Process

Assembly Speaker Carl E. Heastie and Election Law Committee Chair Michael J. Cusick announced the Assembly’s end-of-session passage of reform legislation to overhaul the state’s election process in order to increase voter participation, ensure greater access to the polls, protect voting rights, and promote efficient, voter-friendly registration and elections.

“A critical component of these Election Law reforms is the long overdue closure of the LLC loophole,” said Speaker Heastie. “The legislation would prevent campaign contributors from evading the legal contribution limits by setting up shell corporations and instead establish a more level playing field to promote greater fairness and consistency in the Election Law.”

“The other much needed reforms approved by the Assembly would go a long way to increase voter participation and involvement and make government more accountable, responsive, and reflective of the people’s will,” added Heastie.

“The ability to register online, vote online, vote by mail, vote early, and the other key reforms passed by the Assembly will provide new, effective ways for voters to engage in the electoral process and make their voices heard, which ultimately will strengthen our representative government’s ability to better serve its citizens,” said Cusick.

Among the Assembly’s Election Law reform measures is legislation (A.6975-C, Kavanagh) to close the LLC loophole by requiring that campaign contributions from a Limited Liability Company not exceed $5,000, which currently is the standard limit for contributions made by corporations. The bill also would require that an LLC’s contributions disclose the identity of all direct and indirect LLC owners and attribute each contribution by the LLC to such owners’ contribution limit.

To provide voters with more options to vote and reduce the likelihood of long lines at polling locations, the Assembly passed legislation that would:

  • permit voters to vote by mail at their convenience without being required to meet the narrow criteria that currently apply to voters requesting absentee ballots. The bill would provide first passage of an amendment to the state Constitution; such amendments must be approved by two consecutive legislatures and approved by voters in a statewide referendum. No-excuse absentee voting by mail is already permitted in least 25 states, including Alaska, Arizona, Florida, Minnesota, Nevada, New Jersey, Washington and Wisconsin (A.3874-B, Brennan);
  • provide for early voting, permitting voters to vote in person eight days prior to election day, including during evening and weekend hours. The bill would require early voting poll sites in every county with the number of sites per county tailored to the voting population. New York would be joining 33 other states that have already enacted early voting, many with bipartisan support (A.8582-B, Kavanagh); and
  • modernize voter registration, improve the communication efforts of the various board of election offices and allow qualified New Yorkers to register to vote or update their registration from any computer, smart phone, tablet or other portable device with internet access (A.10370, Cusick).

Other initiatives approved by the Assembly to improve the administration of elections to ensure that they run more smoothly and efficiently would:

  • enact the Voter Friendly Ballot Act, ensuring that ballots are clear and easy for voters to read and complete accurately (A.3389-B, Kavanagh); and
  • enable boards of elections to replace paper voting lists currently used at poll sites with electronic poll books, ensuring that the most up-to-date information is available for voters and poll workers, including votes cast previously in the same election through early voting or absentee ballots (A.8608-A, Cusick).

The Assembly also approved a bill to continue the state’s support for a compact to elect the president by national popular vote, which will take effect when states representing a majority of the nation’s electoral votes adopt similar legislation (A.6044, Dinowitz).

The Assembly has a strong commitment to protecting the principles of democracy and the rights of voters. Toward that end, legislation was passed to require that actions of local boards of elections be pre-cleared by the state Attorney General’s Civil Rights Division, to ensure that they do not have a discriminatory effect based on race or ethnicity. The new process would replace U.S. Justice Department review of such actions in certain counties, which was suspended after an unfortunate ruling of the U.S. Supreme Court that significantly weakened the Voting Rights Act (A.10712, Walker).

“For one reason or another, voter participation has dropped over the years to levels that are very concerning,” said Assemblymember Jim Brennan. “Permitting more voters to vote by mail will provide voters who find it difficult to physically appear at their polling location, the opportunity to ensure their ballot is counted on Election Day. With this measure, and the other bills the Assembly has passed, we hope to increase voter interest in elections and encourage more individuals to exercise their fundamental right to vote.”

“For well over two centuries now, the Electoral College has been used to elect the American President. We elect people to various offices across the country by popular votes, with the sole exception of the President of the United States. What was once a practical measure taken by America’s Founding Fathers as an added safeguard against tyranny, has since become an archaic and simply undemocratic institution – cheapening the votes of millions of Americans, especially New Yorkers,” said Assemblyman Dinowitz. “Why should someone from Wyoming’s vote be worth nearly three times that of a voter from New York? Presidential candidates should be forced to consider all of the major issues facing our country during an election, not just the ones facing swing states.”

“Early voting, no-excuse absentee voting, registration reform and voting rights protections are some of the most effective things we can do to ensure that elections operate in a manner that gives all New Yorkers a fair opportunity to vote without unnecessary obstacles. I thank Speaker Heastie and Chair Cusick for moving this robust reform package through the Assembly, and I urge the Senate Majority and Governor Cuomo to join us in ensuring that these long-overdue reforms are enacted,” said Assemblymember Brian Kavanagh.

“I am very pleased that the election reform measures the Assembly approved in this session will provide further protections to the rights of voters,” said Assemblymember Latrice M. Walker. “Protecting the rights of voters must be a priority for all levels of government.  We must never tolerate any form of voter discrimination or efforts to undermine a person’s right to vote because an individual’s vote is too important to the principles of our democracy.”

In the past 80 years, the percentage of registered voters who successfully cast their ballot in gubernatorial elections reached a high of more than 91percent in 1936 but has since declined to its lowest point of 33 percent in 2014. In non-presidential elections between 2001 and 2015, voter turnout across the state has only once exceeded 41percent in 2002 and tumbled to a low of less than 18 percent in 2015.

Statewide voter participation in presidential elections hovered consistently around 79 percent or higher from 1960 to 1980 but plunged in 2012 to less than 60 percent, the lowest since 1996 (63 percent). Among the last four New York City mayoral elections (2001, 2005, 2009 and 2013), voter turnout fell to a low of less than 24 percent in 2013 from a high of 37 percent in 2001.

 

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