NY Legislature to take up early voting, easier registration

ALBANY, N.Y. (AP) — Lawmakers in New York are poised to approve early voting and easier registration as part of a major overhaul of the state's antiquated voting laws, which have been blamed for decades of low turnout at the polls.

The Senate and Assembly both plan to take up a package of election and voting reform bills on Monday, the first full day of the 2019 legislative session. The quick timing reflects the importance of the changes, as well as the deep frustration that New York has lagged other states in modernizing their election laws.

"We are going to make our democracy work," said Senate Majority Leader Andrea Stewart-Cousins, D-Yonkers.

The highest profile of the bills would allow voters to cast a ballot at their polling place up to 10 days before an election. More than 30 states already have some form of advance voting, and the option has become increasingly popular in many states. Long lines seen at many polling places in New York last November show the need for the option, supporters say.

Early voting and other changes up for debate have long been blocked by Republicans in the state Senate. Democrats wrested control of the chamber from the GOP in last November's elections, and are promising quick action on reforms.

Good-government groups that have advocated for the changes for years will be watching to see if they follow through on the promise.

"There's no reason we should be trying to cram millions of voters into a 15-hour window on a single day, while 37 other states enjoy days or weeks to vote," said Susan Lerner, director of Common Cause-New York. "It's time to see if a unified Democratic government can truly deliver on progressive voting reforms."

Another measure would consolidate state and federal primaries into a single election in June, replacing the current, often confusing calendar of multiple primaries. A third 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.

Lawmakers will also take 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.

Finally, lawmakers also plan to vote on a bill to impose new campaign finance limits on contributions from limited liability corporations, ending a loophole that had allowed LLCs to contribute vast sums to campaigns without disclosing specific individuals giving the money.

New York was among the worst 10 states for turnout in both the 2016 and 2018 elections, continuing a decades-long trend of low turnout. Critics including good-government groups have blamed the state's voting rules for the apathy, saying onerous rules, multiple primaries and rigid registration deadlines keep many at home.

One change not scheduled to be considered on Monday would relax party enrollment deadlines before primaries. Current rules require voters to sign up with a party sometimes months ahead of a primary in order to cast a ballot. That led to widespread complaints in 2016 from voters who wanted to cast a ballot in the Democratic or Republican presidential primaries only to find that they needed to register with their party more than six months earlier. Two of Donald Trump's children were among the voters who missed the deadline and couldn't cast a GOP primary ballot.