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Local News

Gov. Cuomo announces actions to modernize New York's voting system

Dan McClelland

Governor Andrew M. Cuomo on Jan. 8 announced a series of actions to modernize New York’s voting system.
The Democracy Project would allow early voting, and adopt both automatic voter registration and same day voter registration. These new actions will streamline voter registration services, remove unnecessary barriers that prevent participation in elections and increase accuracy within the voting process.
“Voting is the cornerstone of our democracy. This past election shined a bright light on the deficiencies of New York's antiquated election laws and the artificial barriers they create that prevent and discourage voters from exercising this sacred right,” Governor Cuomo said. "These proposals will modernize and open up our election system, making it easier for more voters to participate in the process and helping to make a more fair, more just and more representative New York for all."
Early Voting
This proposal would require every county to offer residents access to at least one early voting poll site during the 12 days leading up to Election Day. Voters will have at least eight hours on weekdays and five hours on weekends to cast early ballots. Counties must have one early voting poll site for every 50,000 residents and the bipartisan county boards of elections will determine the specific location of early voting polling places, subject to standards of accessibility and convenience.
Research shows that work, school, and personal commitments are some of the main reasons voters choose not to participate in elections in the United States. Additionally, early voting leads to shorter lines on Election Day, early detection and correction of registration errors, and greater access to voting. Currently, New York is one of only thirteen states where early voting is not available and an excuse is required to request an absentee ballot. New Yorkers can vote via absentee ballot only if the voter meets certain qualifications such as being absent from his or her county on Election Day or being unable to get to the polls due to a disability.
Thirty-seven states and the District of Columbia already allow voters to cast ballots in person before Election Day. In 2016, the number of these voters who had cast their early ballots by the week before Election Day nearly doubled compared to the 2012 elections.
Automatic Voter Registration
To modernize the voter registration process, the Governor will propose adopting a system implementing automatic voter registration. The new system will streamline DMV services by automatically sending voters’ information used in a DMV application directly to the County Board of Elections. New Yorkers who do not wish to register to vote can simply check an "opt out" box.
Citizens can already register to vote at the DMV, but often face unnecessary, onerous regulations requiring a potential voter to include additional voting information in their application for a DMV service. Paper applications can introduce errors to voter rolls, and inaccurate registrations can lead to voters encountering difficulties at the polls. Automatic voter registration can lead to improved accuracy of voter registration lists, reduced costs, and a more convenient and efficient process for voters and election officials.
Same-Day Voter Registration New York does not currently allow voters to register on Election Day. This proposal would allow New Yorkers to register and vote on the same day so that onerous and counter-intuitive registration deadlines do not prevent New Yorkers from having the opportunity to participate in the electoral process. Thirteen other states and the District of Columbia allow same-day registration, which has greatly increased the accessibility of the democratic process to everyday citizens.Attorney General Eric T. Schneiderman issued the following statement in response to Governor Cuomo’s voting rights proposal:
"As my Civil Rights Bureau detailed in an exhaustive report last month, New Yorkers face some of the highest barriers to voting of any state in the country. There is no good reason New York lags the country, lacking early voting, same day voter registration, and streamlined online voter registration. That's why last month I announced I will introduce the NY Votes Act, which will provide a comprehensive roadmap to fixing our state's broken voting system.
"On Primary Day last year, my office's voter hotline received ten times more voter complaints than anytime in history, with over 1,500 New Yorkers reporting cases of long lines, inaccurate voter rolls, and confusing and inconsistent policies at polling places across New York. That needs to change.
"In addition to the proposals announced by Governor Cuomo today, we must enact changes that support greater voter participation, such as finally consolidating New York's unnecessary three primary schedule to a single day, and making it easier for New Yorkers to vote in the party primary of their choice.
"I commend Governor Cuomo for proposing common sense reforms to our voting system. I look forward to working with Governor Cuomo, the legislature, and everyday New Yorkers across our state to address the systemic problems in New York's voting laws. New York must become a national leader in voting rights by expanding and protecting the rights of all New Yorkers to cast their vote.
"Our guiding principle on voting rights should be simple: any law that makes voting easier is a good law--any law that makes voting harder, is a bad one. I look forward to making that principle a reality this legislative session."