Cuomo, Senate say proposals will boost voting access

Gov. Andrew Cuomo Tuesday - Governor's Office

Gov. Andrew Cuomo Tuesday - Governor's Office

CAPITOL — Gov. Andrew M. Cuomo and the state Senate majority are pushing proposals that will provide more time for early voting and allow no-excuse absentee voting.

The proposals follow a major reform package passed in 2019 that allowed for early voting for the first time, and then 2020’s expansion of mail-in voting access in response to the COVID-19 pandemic.

But they also come at a time when supporters of President Donald J. Trump have attempted to challenge the legitimacy of election reforms in many states across the country, though Trump’s claims that reforms led to widespread fraud have thus far proven baseless.

“Our election system, on which our democracy is built, has, and continues to be, under attack by those seeking to undermine the founding principles of our nation and we must not only protect it, but ensure it can be accessed by all,” Cuomo said in making his proposals, which are included in his State of the State package being rolled out this week.

“While we have already made some progress in modernizing New York’s election system, there is much left to do and this historic package of election reforms will be critical in strengthening how elections are run and ensuring all New Yorkers are able to exercise this fundamental right.” Cuomo said.

Among the proposals:

* Allowing no-excuse absentee voting for all New Yorkers: The move would require a constitutional amendment, and that process — which requires passage by two different sessions of the Legislature — was started in 2019. Cuomo is calling for quick passage this year, so the proposed amendment can be put before voters this fall.

* Allow more time for voters to request absentee ballots: Voters will be allowed to request an absentee ballot up to 45 days before an election, instead of 30 days. The additional time would give voters more time to vote and return ballots, and local boards of elections more time to process ballots received.

* Faster counting of absentee ballots: Cuomo’s proposal would allow boards of election to process ballots as they are received and start counting them on Election Day, rather than waiting a week or more after Election Day to start counting them. “In 2020, when large numbers of absentee ballots were cast, New York State was among the slowest states in the country to post the results of its absentee ballots,” Cuomo’s office said.

* Expanded access to early voting: With 2.5 million voters having used early voting during the 10-day early voting period for the 2020 general election, Cuomo would expand the hours polls are open, adding 6 p.m. to 9 p.m. hours on at least five of the early voting days, including weekends.

The state Senate, meanwhile, has developed its own package of reforms that would incorporate what the governor wants, but take additional steps, including a law against discarding ballots for technical violations if the voter’s intent was clear; allowing drop-boxes for absentee ballots; allowing votes to request an absentee ballot online; and creating a tracking system so voters can see if their absentee ballot has been received by the local board.

The Senate package was approved by the Senate on Monday, though it still would need action from the state Assembly and Cuomo before becoming law.

“Voting is the central pillar of democracy, and it’s important that we do all we can to make it easier for New Yorkers to exercise this fundamental right,” said new 46th District state Sen. Michelle Hinchey, D-Saugerties, in a provided statement. “Expanding vote-by-mail in New York is a critical step to increase voter participation and the accessibility of our elections.”

Good government groups and voting rights advocates praised the proposed changes.

“The reliance on absentee voting during the COVID-19 pandemic highlighted the need for several important fixes to the state’s absentee voting operations,” said Jennifer Wilson, deputy director of the League of Women Voters of New York State. “This package of bills will ensure New York State voters have adequate access to apply for, submit, and track their absentee ballot. These procedural fixes will give voters greater peace of mind when electing to vote by absentee ballot in future elections.”

“The package of bills being advanced this week, particularly the constitutional changes, will, if enacted, move New York closer to (being) the national leader in (voting access),” said Blair Horner, executive director of the New York Public Interest Research Group.

Correction 1/13 1:37 PM: New 46th District state Sen. Michelle Hinchey, D-Saugerties, is a Democrat. An earlier version of this article incorrectly stated her party.

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