Cuomo calls for expanded voting hours

Proposals include new limits on political donations by businesses
Voters at the Glenville Senior Center on November 6, 2018.
Voters at the Glenville Senior Center on November 6, 2018.

CAPITOL – Gov. Andrew Cuomo on Monday proposed expanding primary day voting hours upstate, where primary voting doesn’t start until noon, and combining federal and state primary voting dates, among other voter-encouragement measures.

“These proposals will not only modernize our voting laws, they will remove barriers that have prevented and discouraged voters from exercising their sacred right to vote,” Cuomo said, in releasing the proposal ahead of Tuesday’s State of the State and budget presentation in Albany.

Cuomo previously announced he would seek comprehensive reforms of New York’s voting laws, including online and automatic voter registration, making Election Day a holiday, and combining federal and state primaries into a single day.

Several other proposals Cuomo supports were included in legislation that was expected to be adopted by the state Legislature later Monday. Those proposals include early voting, no-excuse absentee voting by mail, same-day registration and synchronizing federal and state elections.

“At a time when the federal government is doing everything it can to disenfranchise voters, we are taking action to make it easier for New Yorkers to participate in the democratic process and crack down on corporate influences in our election,” Cuomo said.

Under current state Election Day rules, upstate polling places don’t open until noon on primary days, even though polling places in Westchester County and points south open at 6 a.m. All polling places close at 9 p.m.

“New Yorkers everywhere are entitled to the same opportunity to vote, and this year, New York will ensure that voting hours are extended for primary elections upstate to match those voting hours across the rest of the state,” a statement from Cuomo’s office said.

Cuomo’s reform package also includes a ban on all corporate political contributions and would “close” the LLC loophole, which allows limited liability companies to make unlimited donations, by capping such contributions at $5,000.

The changes haven’t been received entirely favorably. The New York State Association of Counties said it opposes extended hours or early voting proposals unless the state is going to pick up the additional cost for counties, which administer the local election system.

“Estimates for these new provisions suggest that it will cost between $500,000 to $1 million per county, depending on its size,” said Stephen J. Acquario, NYSAC’s executive director. “Under a 2 percent property tax cap, counties cannot afford additional new costs associated with early voting and other election reforms.”

What share of the cost the state would cover, if any, was not available on Monday.

Others praised the move.

“New York ranks among the worst states in the nation in voter turnout because we have weak campaign finance laws and laws that make it hard to vote,” said Jonah Minkoff-Zern, co-director of the Public Citizen’s Democracy Is For The People campaign. “It’s exciting to see that the New York Legislature has heard the voices of thousands of us who have petitioned, called, met with our lawmakers and traveled to Albany to demand changes.”

Reach Daily Gazette reporter Stephen Williams at 518-395-3086, [email protected] or @gazettesteve on Twitter.

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