Anyone who has tried to vote in New York state knows that the system is broken. In one of the country’s most progressive states, voting laws are far behind many others. Registering takes forever, primaries are closed, voters are constantly finding themselves purged from the rolls, and absentee ballots require a special request. Now, thankfully, it seems that this shitshow is finally about to be reformed.
The midterms had a positive effect on New York, ousting the Democratic-in-name-only Independent Democratic Conference that had a stranglehold on the state Legislature, and installing actual Democrats in their place. Now, the newly, truly Democratic Legislature is scheduled to pass a bill enacting sweeping reforms on state voting laws that could change the landscape of New York politics.
The Democratic-controlled state Legislature is set to pass a sweeping election reform package on Monday that enacts early voting and preregistration for 16- and 17-year-olds. It also gives initial authorization to constitutional amendments to enact Election Day registration and “no excuse” absentee voting, which must be approved by voters at a later date.
Governor Andrew Cuomo has said he will sign the bill.
“It’s an incredible step forward for New York,” Wendy Weiser, director at the Brennan Center for Justice, told Mother Jones. “These are long overdue reforms. New York has really lagged behind the rest of the country in modernizing its voting system, and we’ve seen the results at the ballot box.”
For a progressive state, it’s incredibly how much voter suppression has impacted New York—in 2018, it was listed as number 42 out of 50 in a ranking of voter turnout by state. Even New York City Mayor Bill de Blasio’s son didn’t appear on the voter rolls—despite registering to vote—during the state primary elections last year. This problem was even more apparent during the 2016 primaries, when 120,000 registered voters were purged from the rolls.
New York has up till now had no early voting option, and absentee ballots, which must be requested weeks in advance, can’t be turned into polling stations. These policies also work to decrease turnout.
Some of these issues will hopefully be fixed by the new bill. The law will allow high school students to pre-register before their 18th birthdays, require federal and state primaries to be held on the same day, and limits the amount that LLCs (often real estate shell companies) can give to candidates. It will also create an opening to implement Election Day registration and absentee voting without providing a reason. Those last two ideas would require constitutional amendments, which need the approval of two subsequent Legislatures and a voter referendum, meaning they couldn’t be implemented until 2021.
This bill is only the beginning. Weiser says that this year the Legislature will also consider automatic voter registration and restoring voting rights to ex-felons.
“It’s been impossible to pass election reform in Albany for quite some time,” she told Mother Jones. “It’s a new day in New York.”