Legislative Gazette Reports of Governor Signing Kavanagh's Bill Easing Restrictions on Switching Party Enrollment

October 03, 2019

Originally published in The Legislative Gazette on October 03, 2019.

On October 3, 2019, Jennifer Bianco of the Legislative Gazette published a story about legislation (S6532A/A8228B) sponsored by Senator Kavanagh and Assemblymember Jonathan Jacobson and signed into law by Governor Cuomo, which will help voters participate in upcoming primaries by easing restrictions on switching political party enrollment. The full text of the story is below; the original version is available via the link above.
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Gov. Cuomo Signs New Law that Makes It Faster and Easier to Switch Party Enrollment
By Jennifer Bianco
October 3, 2019

Gov. Andrew Cuomo has signed a bill (S.6532A/A.8228B) that makes it easier for voters to participate in the upcoming presidential primaries.

The bill, sponsored by Sen. Brian Kavanagh, D-East Side Manhattan, and Assemblyman Jonathan Jacobson, D-Newburgh,  amends the state’s Election Law in regards to change of party enrollment.

Until now, changes to party enrollment did not take effect until after the November general election, requiring voters to wait as long as a year for changes to take effect. The new law will remove the October 11 deadline and give voters until February 14 to make changes to party enrollment and still vote in the April presidential and June congressional and state primaries. The change will go into effect immediately.

February 14 falls within the period between the filing of presidential petitions and the commencement of the petition period for state and local offices to allow the enrollment list used by candidates, boards of elections and courts to be updated between the two petition periods.

According to the Assembly bill memo, the new law is intended “to balance the state’s strong interest in the integrity of the ballot, the integrity of the party system, and the rules governing voter participation in party processes, with the increased voter interest in participating in the political process.

As a result of this change, a voter in New York may file a change of enrollment on or before February 14th and it will take effect immediately, allowing the voter to participate in the chosen party’s next primary. Any change in enrollment received by the Board of Elections after February 14th will take effect seven days after the succeeding June primary.

“With the change we’re enacting today, we’re significantly diminishing an obstacle that has prevented many New Yorkers from joining the party of their choice and participating in our primary elections,” said Kavanagh, a member of the Senate Elections Committee. “Having worked to reform our extremely restrictive party enrollment law for about a decade, I’m gratified that we’re able to add this voter friendly reform to the many we have already enacted this year to protect and expand the right to vote and bring New York’s election laws on par with the best in the country.”

The bill will take effect immediately, and is not expected to have any fiscal implications on state or local governments.

On June 15, 2019, the bill was introduced in the Senate Rules Committee, where it was amended once, and four days later it passed a floor vote that was split along party lines: 40-22.

“Voting should be simple and easy. During this year’s session, the Legislature passed many significant voting reforms, including early voting,” said Assembly sponsor Jonathan Jacobson, D-Newburgh, who sits on the Election Law Committee. “The bill that Gov. Cuomo signed dramatically extends the time for voters to change their party enrollment. Voters can now change their enrollment status up until a mere 10 weeks before the presidential primary.”

According to the bill text, New York state currently has eight statewide parties. A uniform party change process that applies to all eight parties is intended to alleviate administrative problems for boards of election and confusion for voters.

“While the federal administration continues to look for new ways to disenfranchise voters across the country, in New York we are making monumental changes to break down more barriers to the ballot box and encourage more people to exercise this fundamental right,” Governor Cuomo said. “This measure will make it easier for New Yorkers to have their voices heard in presidential, congressional and state primaries, which builds upon the many reforms we’ve made to strengthen New York’s election system and increase voter access once and for all.”

The bill sponsors say an increased interest in participating in the political process justifies a change to the general party enrollment rule to allow a voter to change their party closer to the presidential and state primaries.

This period before a presidential primary indicates this is a critical time for partisan realignment, as opposed to party raiding and the new law is intended to increase voter interest in participating in the political process.

“We are pleased that the governor has signed legislation to move the party change deadline to February; bringing New York more in line with other states’ deadline,” said Jennifer Wilson, deputy director for the League of Women Voters of New York State. “This reform is long overdue and will give voters greater flexibility when changing their political affiliation.”