Photo: NYS Senate
New York State Senate Majority Leader Andrea Stewart-Cousins started the 2021 Legislative Session by advancing major voting reforms on Monday to modernize the vote by mail system and increase transparency and voter turnout.
The legislation passed builds on the Senate Majority’s historic election reforms passed during the 2019 and 2020 Legislative Session. The package of bills includes legislation to require absentee ballots be counted as they come in, requires absentee ballot drop boxes at voting locations to reduce long lines, and allows voters to track their absentee ballot.
“Elections matter, voting matters, and leadership matters. We have seen how fundamental change can be achieved when people exercise their Constitutional right to vote,” Senate Majority Leader Andrea Stewart-Cousins said. “The Senate Democratic Majority has started the past two Legislative Sessions with legislative packages to empower New Yorkers and reduce barriers to voting.
The bills advanced by the Senate Majority continue those efforts and will help reform and modernize our electoral system. I applaud the bill sponsors for their leadership on this foundational issue, and thank my colleagues for advancing these bills and standing up for New York voters.”
The bills advanced by the Senate Majority include:
· Speeding Up the Absentee Ballot Counting Process: This bill, S.1027, sponsored by Deputy Majority Leader Senator Michael Gianaris, amends various provisions of the Election Law in order to allow for expedited review and canvassing of absentee ballots without compromising the integrity of elections.
· Preventing Disenfranchisement of Absentee Voters: This bill, S.253, sponsored by Senate Elections Committee Chair, Senator Zellnor Myrie, prohibits voiding absentee ballots on technicalities where intent of voters is clear and the law has been substantially complied with, including where there are stray marks or the ballot is undated but is time stamped by the Board of Elections.
· Permanently Authorizing Absentee Ballot Drop Boxes: This bill, S.492, sponsored by Senator Brad Hoylman, authorizes the Board of Elections to establish absentee ballot drop-off locations or drop-boxes to provide voters with a convenient and secure option for delivering their absentee ballots.
· Increasing Transparency and Information about Absentee Ballots through a Tracking System: This bill, S.1028, sponsored by Senator Leroy Comrie, ensures that all voters in the state have access to absentee ballot tracking by requiring the New York State Board of Elections to create a statewide absentee ballot tracking system for absentee voters ensure that their vote is counted in the election while allowing counties and the New York City Board of Elections to also maintain their own absentee tracking systems.
· Implementing Permanent Authorization for Applying for Absentee Ballots Online: This bill, S.632, sponsored by Senator Robert Jackson, permanently allows voters to apply for absentee ballots online and allows absentee ballots postmarked through Election Day by making permanent Chapter 91 of the Laws of 2020, which sunset on December 31, 2020. Under current Election Law, applications may only be made by mail or fax.
· Creating Accountability for Timely Receipt of Absentee Ballots: This bill, S.516, sponsored by Deputy Majority Leader Michael Gianaris, establishes a mandatory timeframes for processing of absentee ballot applications and ballots by Boards of Elections based on when the application was received.
· Enabling Earlier Applications for Absentee Ballots: This bill, S.631, sponsored by Senator Julia Salazar, permits Boards of Elections to receive absentee ballot applications earlier than thirty days before the applicable Election Day by making permanent Chapter 138 of the Laws of 2020, which sunset on December 31, 2020.
· No-Excuse Absentee Voting Constitutional Amendment: This legislation, S.360, sponsored by Senator Leroy Comrie, amends the State Constitution to allow for any voter to vote by absentee without an excuse.
· Ensuring Voters Timely Receipt of Absentee Ballots: This bill, S.264, sponsored by Senator Zellnor Myrie, sets deadline for absentee ballot applications sent by mail to 15 days before the election, up from 7 days, to better allow for voters timely receiving their absentee ballots.
Jennifer Wilson, Deputy Director of the League of Women Voters of NYS, said, “The reliance on absentee voting during the COVID-19 pandemic highlighted the need for several important fixes to the state’s absentee voting operations. This package of bills will ensure New York State voters have adequate access to apply for, submit, and track their absentee ballot. These procedural fixes will give voters greater peace of mind when electing to vote by absentee ballot in future elections. We applaud the Senate for moving forward this package of bills and hope to see additional reforms related to the timing and transparency in reporting election results to the public.”
Jarret Berg, Co-Founder of VoteEarlyNY said, “The voting reform package being advanced by the Senate Majority will help modernize New York elections by expanding access, improving administration, and enshrining a series of due process safeguards to better ensure our fundamental rights are protected and respected.”
Dustin Czarny, Onondaga County Elections Commissioner and Chair Democratic Caucus of the NYS Elections Commissioners Association, said, “These legislative changes will go a long way towards fixing some of the byzantine process we have in New York. Improving our absentee and vote by mail system will not only give voters more options but will give clear direction to Boards of Elections across the state. I am happy to support these bills.”
Blair Horner, NYPIRG Executive Director, said, “Thanks to the reforms enacted over the past two years, New York has dramatically improved its voter participation rate. When it comes to voting, New York, which was once among the worst, is now getting closer to the middle of the national pack. But New York ‘s voting rate in 2020 was still below the national average. The package of bills being advanced this week, particularly the constitutional changes, will, if enacted, move New York closer to the national leader.”
Susan Lerner, Executive Director of Common Cause/NY, said, “Common Cause/NY is pleased the New York State Senate is starting session the same way it has the past two years: putting New York voters first. Clearly, today’s package is just the beginning. We look forward to working with the Senate and the Assembly to pass even more crucial election reforms, most particularly restoring voting rights for folks recently released, this year.”
Video on Election Reforms can be seen HERE.