State Senate expands New York voting rights - Metro US

State Senate expands New York voting rights

new york voting rights bill 2019
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The New York State Senate passed a slate of bills in its second legislative session, all focused on expanding New York voting rights from early voting to allowing 16- and 17-year-olds to register.

“We need more voices in our democracy, not fewer,” said Senate Majority Leader Andrea Stewart-Cousins. “Easing access to voting and having New Yorkers exercise their Constitutional right to have their voices heard shouldn’t be partisan or controversial.”

If Governor Cuomo signs them into law, New Yorkers will be able to vote in person up to ten days in advance of elections. This would be a boon not just for working-class voters in the service industry normally unable to take Election Day off, but may reduce the hours-long wait times many voters experienced during the 2018 midterm elections.

“New York’s voter turnout has decreased to historic lows, fueling a culture of corruption in Albany,” said Senator Jessica Ramos. “When we commit as your representatives to increasing voter turnout, we are increasing accountability too. Our state can only be its best with an educated and engaged electorate.”

Additionally, a bill introduced by Majority Leader Stewart-Cousins will consolidate state and federal primary elections to the same day to save on expenses as well as simplify the voting process. Two bills by Senator David Carlucci will allow voters to move within New York State without needing to re-register and permit 16- and 17-year-olds to register to vote in advance, allowing them to vote without delay once they turn 18. 

Senator Julia Salazar voiced some concern that harm could come to pre-registering minors, though she voted yes for the proposal nonetheless.

“My only concern is that mass pre-registration attempts may put non-citizen youth at risk,” she wrote on Twitter. “Because it is unfortunately a felony for non-citizens to register to vote, it’s critical that we more clearly caution and protect immigrant youth from being criminalized.”

All of the bills passed with sweeping majorities, though a handful of Republicans in the Senate voted in opposition to each of them.

More steps to take on New York voting rights

The widest-spanning laws that passed on Monday, namely same-day voter registration and no-excuse absentee voting, cannot pass until 2021, as they are amendments of New York’s state Constitution. In order to take effect, they must be signed by the Governor, passed a second time by the state legislature, and then passed by the voters of New York in a referendum.

Currently, voters cannot register to vote less than ten days before an election and must give a reason that they need an absentee ballot, a formality that Senator Leroy Comrie describes as “antiquated.” The constitutional amendment, which he introduced, would allow anyone registered to vote in New York to vote by mail for whatever reason they choose.

And though one of the bills passed closed a loophole that allowed some companies to donate more than the $5000 limit set for corporations, many state Senators emphasized the importance of doing more.

“I fervently believe that we have more work to do in order to make our elections truly accessible, democratic, and free from the outsized influence of corporate interests,” said Senator Salazar.

Governor Cuomo has already come out in favor of a much more substantial New York voting rights reform, including automatically registering residents to vote unless they explicitly opt out, making Election Day a holiday and banning corporate campaign contributions altogether, which he will address at his State of the State speech.

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