New York state may soon join most other states in allowing its citizens to cast a ballot before Election Day in a bid to improve its low voter turnout rates.
The state Senate and Assembly both approved legislation Monday that would require counties to allow in-person voting up to 10 days before an election. The measure now goes to Democratic Gov. Andrew Cuomo, who supports the idea.
Supporters say giving citizens more time to vote will increase turnout and reduce lines on Election Day. New York was among the worst 10 states for turnout in both the 2016 and 2018 elections, continuing a long trend of lower-than-average voter participation.
Monday’s legislative action came on the first full day of the 2019 session — quick action that supporters say shows the vital need to make it easier to cast a ballot.
“Today we begin the journey of bringing New York state from worst to first,” said Sen. Zellnor Myrie, D-Brooklyn and the sponsor of the bill in the Senate. “We are one of only 12 states that do not have early voting. … Early voting will open up our democracy and it’s time that we get it done.”
The bills passed both chambers easily and with bipartisan support. Opponents — mostly Republicans — questioned the added cost of manning polling places for 10 days and said early voting could create opportunities for double voting or other fraud.
“Is this bill the first step to allowing non-citizens to vote in New York?” asked Sen. Catharine Young, R-Olean, who said she also worries that early voting will be a financial burden for local governments.
Local governments don’t have the money to pay for the costs associated with in-person early voting and are asking Cuomo and lawmakers to add funding in the next state budget, according to a statement from the state association of counties.
Lawmakers approved other bills intended to modernize the state’s antiquated voting rules. One would consolidate state and federal primaries into a single election in June, replacing the current, often confusing calendar of multiple primaries. Another would preregister 16- and 17-year olds when they sign up for a driving permit so they would automatically be registered when they turn 18.
They also took up proposed state constitutional amendments that, if passed and approved by voters, would allow for registration on election day and rewrite the state’s absentee voting rules to allow anyone to request an absentee ballot. Currently, voters must give a reason in order to vote absentee, such as chronic illness or travel plans. Possible constitutional changes must pass the Legislature twice before going to the voters, meaning those questions could not appear on a ballot until at least 2021.
Legislation to authorize early voting has long been blocked by Republicans in the state Senate. Prospects for the bill improved when Democrats wrested control of the chamber from the GOP in last November’s elections.
Susan Lerner, executive director of Common Cause-New York, called the reforms “a fantastic first step” and “long overdue.”
“New York can and will be a shining example of democracy,” she said.