ALBANY — New York Democrats will make expanding voting rights their first order of business upon returning to the state Capitol this week.
Senate Democrats, emboldened as they enter their second consecutive year in control of the chamber, plan to pass a host of election reforms right out of the gate that will expand early voting and revisit a stalled plan for an automatic voter registration system.
“These bills build on the voting reforms we passed first thing last session, and will empower more New Yorkers to register to vote and utilize early voting opportunities," Senate Majority Leader Andrea Stewart-Cousins (D-Yonkers) said.
The focus on voter access comes a year after Dems wrestled control of the Senate away from Republicans and passed sweeping measures allowing for early voting, preregistration of minors, electronic poll books, voting by mail and other reforms.
Dems say they’ll be ready to build on last year’s changes and approve the package on Thursday, the second day of this year’s legislative session.
“The Senate Majority is picking up where we left off: making it easy and accessible for New Yorkers to exercise their right to vote," said Sen. Zellnor Myrie (D-Brooklyn), the chairman of the Senate’s elections committee. “At the beginning of last session, some questioned our ability to effectively govern but with the passage of further election reforms on the very first day of the 2020 session, the answer is clear, the journey from worst to first continues.”
Democrats in the Assembly are expected to take up the package in the coming weeks.
Bills included in the bundle will address issues and concerns raised during last year’s first round of early voting, which allowed New Yorkers to go to polling sites up to 10 days before November’s election.
One measure, sponsored by Sen. Liz Krueger (D-Manhattan), will bar schools from being used as polling sites. Last year, teachers and parents raised concerns about security and the burden placed on schools forced to give up facilities to house polling sites.
Other bills will ensure voters have access to the early sites by calling on counties to place them in heavily-populated cities and towns. Another would create portable polling locations.
Also included in the package is a revised version of Dem’s failed automatic voter registration bill that passed both the Senate and Assembly last year, but had to be scrapped after a technical mistake would have instructed non-citizens to register to vote.
This revamped legislation, sponsored by Deputy Majority Leader Michael Gianaris (D-Queens), creates a system that would automatically add a person’s name to the voter rolls when they interact with state government agencies unless they choose to opt out. Similar measures have passed in 15 states and the District of Columbia in recent years.
“Access to the ballot box should be easy and fair, and enacting automatic voter registration would go a long way towards improving our democracy,” Gianaris said.