Politico: Gianaris Introduces Bill To Allow Permanent Voting By Mail

Originally published in Politico on May 23, 2023.

ALBANY, N.Y. — State Senate Deputy Leader Mike Gianaris has introduced a bill that would make universal mail-in voting permanent after the temporary installed during the Covid-19 pandemic expired at the end of last year. 

“The easier we make it for people to vote, the more people will vote,” Gianaris (D-Queens) said. 

The state constitution limits the practice of casting ballots by remote, such as mail, to instances where a voter is ill, disabled or traveling outside of their county of residence. Voters rejected an amendment in 2021 that would have expanded the constitution to allow for no-excuse, mail-in voting. 

Democrats have found workarounds for the past few years via a series of executive orders and laws that have said the illness provision covers anybody at an increased risk of getting sick — effectively allowing for universal voting by mail during a pandemic. The most recent such law expired at the end of 2022, and the official end of the pandemic means a fifth renewal is off the table. 

But the constitutional limits, such as the illness provision, are in a section that refers to Election Day. New York has had early voting since 2017, and Gianaris said that while the Legislature can’t allow for universal voting by mail on Election Day itself, there are no restrictions for those who want to submit ballots by mail early. 

“I don’t think the constitution limits early voting by mail,” Gianaris said. “It expressly says the method of voting is up to the Legislature to decide.” 

Lawmakers in Massachusetts recently attempted a workaround of constitutional language that imposes limits on voting by mail that are very similar to those in New York. Democrats who argued that voting by mail was a form of early voting and thus not covered by the limits were able to beat back a Republican lawsuit in that commonwealth’s highest court last summer. 

“We think the same reasoning applies here,” Gianaris said. 

The Queens senator introduced his bill on Monday. It doesn’t yet have an Assembly sponsor but he “expects” it to have one soon. The legislative session ends June 8. 

“But obviously, we’ve only got a couple of weeks to work with, so hopefully we’ll move quickly,” he said.