New York Continues Progressive Streak By Advancing Legislation To Improve Voting

Election Day
Image from Wikimedia Commons

Could New York be competing with California for the title of “most progressive state?” Could New York Governor Andrew M. Cuomo (D) be mulling over a presidential bid? Or could it simply be that New York is genuinely engaging in the grassroots wave of progressive activism sweeping the state and nation?

Last month, Gov. Cuomo signed a college-for-all plan that makes New York’s public colleges and universities tuition-free to students with family incomes up to $125,000, community colleges completely tuition free, slashes student loan interest rates in half, and triples funding for the Federal Work-Study program.

New York is now the first state to institute tuition-free college since state schools nationwide ended the practice in the 1960s.

A universal healthcare plan is two signatures away from advancing to the state Senate. If passed into law, it would provide healthcare to all New Yorkers as a basic human right.

Now New York is acting on improving its voting requirements.

New York is one of eleven states with closed primaries. This means only voters registered with a party holding a primary may vote. Third-party enrollees, such as Green Party members or Independents, cannot cast ballots until the general election.

New York also requires voters to register in a party one month before a scheduled primary.

Last week, Assembly Speaker Carl Heastie (D) and Election Law Committee Chair Michael Cusick (D) announced the New York State Assembly passed a series of comprehensive legislation packages to improve voter participation through increasing voting opportunities, and facilitating and modernizing the registration process. The bill is now advancing to the Senate.

Speaker Heastie said:

“The Assembly Majority is committed to creating the most equitable election process possible for New York State voters. That is why our legislative package includes measures to reduce registration burdens and increases voting opportunities so that everyone can make their voice heard.”

Assembly Member Cusick added:

“Voting is one of the greatest civic responsibilities we hold as citizens and therefore, as legislators, we have a responsibility to protect and expand access to the ballot. This legislation will ensure that voters are able to more effectively participate in the electoral process, and in turn, allow the government to better serve people.”

One legislative package includes “an act to amend the election law, in relation to early voting” (A02064), would establish an in-person seven-day early voting period prior to a primary, special, or general election. Each county would be required to provide predetermined early voting hours that best suit residents’ needs.

Another component, A7623, would amend the New York State Constitution to allow “no-excuse” absentee voting so New Yorkers have more time and options for casting their ballots. Currently, absentee voting is only permitted if an individual expects to be absent on Election Day, or is physically unable to vote in person due to disability.

A3052, would require federal non-presidential and state primaries to be combined in June. This legislation would guarantee New York’s compliance with the Military Overseas Voter Empowerment (MOVE) Act. It would make voting more convenient by reducing the number of primary elections, saving taxpayers money.

A3549, is legislation aimed at promoting young voters’ civic engagement. This would allow a 17- year-old individual to vote in a primary election if he or she will be 18 years old by the time of the subsequent presidential election.

Under the Voter Enfranchisement Act of 2017, A5382, New York would update voter registration through an online registration process. Under A6283, applications to state and local agencies would include voter registration applications to provide a seamless process for voters, and facilitate boards of elections’ electronic processing and registration.

A3411 would facilitate automatic transfer of voters’ registration when voters move within the state.

During elections, polls are open on average sixteen hours. This does not include time required for opening and closing polls for which election inspectors are required to be present the entire time. A6907-A would allow election inspectors to work in shifts, helping boards of elections recruit and retain essential staff.

A7745 would extend New York City’s run-off election one week to allow appropriate time to canvas, audit, and test optical scanning machines following a primary election. It would also adjust several calendar deadlines and allow more time for the state to receive military ballots.

New York is a progressive state in many fundamental ways. It’s time its voting requirements reflect that. After 120,000 people were unable to vote last April due to voter roll purges and other irregularities, New York is taking the proper steps in expanding opportunities to participate in the electoral process. Other states, hopefully, will follow suit.

Featured image from Wikimedia Commons taken by Matt H. Wade available under CC BY-SA 3.0.

Ted Millar is poet and teacher. His poetry has been in featured in myriad literary journals, including Caesura, Circle Show, Cactus Heart, Third Wednesday, and The Voices Project. He is also a contributor to Op-Ed News and Liberal Nation Rising.