Weekly Feature

2017-02-15 / Local News

Schneiderman introduces bill to protect voting rights

Schneiderman Schneiderman New York Attorney General Eric T. Schneiderman recently introduced the New York Votes Act, a comprehensive reform package aimed at simplifying the voting process, boosting voter registration, and increasing voter turnout. The New York Votes Act will be sponsored by the Chairman of the Election Law Committee, Assemblyman Michael Cusick (D-Staten Island).

The New York Votes Act will dramatically update the state’s voting systems by adding early voting, automatic and same-day voter registration, consolidated primaries, shortened party registration deadlines, and more.

“Any law that makes it easier to vote is a good law; any law that makes it harder to vote is a bad law,” said Schneiderman. “New York has long been a bastion of democracy, but our state’s current system of registration and voting is an affront to that legacy. The New York Votes Act will help our state become a national leader in protecting and expanding voting rights for New Yorkers.”

Many of the provisions in the New York Votes Act arise directly from the findings of the AG’s December 2016 report on the problems that voters faced during the 2016 presidential primary and general elections. The inquiry, which was undertaken in response to record voter complaints during the April primary election, found that voters encountered barriers to access erected by New York’s restrictive voting laws, rules and procedures, as well as by the practices and administrative errors of state agencies and the Boards of Election.

Key provisions of the bill include:

Automatic Registration of Eligible Voters — Any designated state or local agency that collects information from a person who has formal contact with that agency as part of an application for services, change of address or other similar process would be required to electronically transmit identifying information for that person to the New York State Board of Elections. Upon receiving this information, NYS BOE would then electronically forward it to the appropriate local Board of Elections for verification and processing as a voter registration application. Individuals would have the absolute right to opt out of the automatic registration process by simply checking an “opt out” box on the designated agency’s electronic or paper form.

Same-Day Registration For New Voters — Amend New York State Election Law to permit a qualified person who is not registered to vote in the state to appear personally at the appropriate polling place on the day of any primary, general or special election, register to vote, and simultaneously cast his or her ballot.

Online Personal Voter Registration and Absentee Ballot Applications — Allow electronic personal voter registration, and online applications for absentee ballots, so that any qualified registrant can complete the entire voter registration or absentee ballot application process online via a desktop computer or handheld device.

Create a System of “Permanent” Voter Registration — Implement a system of “permanent” voter registration in the state by requiring BOEs to maintain and update the registration of any consenting voter who moves within the state.

Allow Registered Voters to Change Their Party Enrollment Closer to Primary Day — Allow already-registered voters to change their party affiliation up to 120 days prior to any primary election.

Adopt a System of Early Voting — Permit a registered voter to vote at the local BOE in the same county where the voter is registered, or at one or more other designated polling places, seven days per week starting two weeks before an election.

Ensure Uniformity of Poll Site Hours Across the State —Require poll sites statewide to open at 6 a.m. and close at 9 p.m. during all primary elections. Under existing law, except for NYC and seven other counties, polling places do not open until noon on primary days.

Consolidate Federal, State and Local Primaries on Single Day— Hold all statewide primary elections on one day in late June.

Increase Language Access — Whenever any local BOE finds that 3 percent of the voting-age residents of an election district have Limited English Proficiency, according to the U.S. Census Bureau, it shall provide ballots as well as registration or voting notices, forms, instructions, assistance, and other materials or information relating to the electoral process in the primary language of the population in question, in a manner that provides the same opportunity for access and participation as voters whose primary language is English.

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