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Governor Hochul signs law allowing mail-in early voting; Rep. Stefanik files lawsuit

A sign on a wall says "Election Day Polling Place" with shelves of books in the background.
File Photo
An Onondaga County polling place at a library.

Governor Kathy Hochul Wednesday signed into law a measure to make it easier for New Yorkers to access mail-in voting. Some New York Republicans, led by Congresswoman Elise Stefanik, have filed a lawsuit against the measure.

Hochul, speaking at New York Law School, signed the New York Early Mail Voter Act. All registered voters will be able to request a mail-in ballot up to ten days prior to Election Day. The ballots, which will come with postage-paid return envelopes, must be mailed back by Election Day and must be received by the local boards of election no later than seven days after voting occurs.

Hochul says it will make voting easier for average, working New Yorkers who have to juggle jobs, and caring for children and perhaps elderly parents as well.

“Today we're going to right the wrongs of the past and say it's finally time that people can vote by mail. We saw it work during the pandemic. We can do this. We know that everyday people are so busy,” Hochul said. “And it's just, why not?”

Hochul says we can’t take the continuation of democracy for granted, pointing to the January 6, 2021, storming of the Capitol in Washington, which left five dead. And she accused some Republicans of engineering a “sinister slow-motion insurrection.”

She says the U.S. Supreme Court gutted the federal Voting Rights Act of 1965 a decade ago, and 29 states have passed voter suppression laws.

“Because, as we're seeing all across America, the right to vote is literally under attack. I could not have imagined as a child that I'd be standing here as an adult having to say we have to fight to defend the right to vote in America,” Hochul said. “It is shocking.”

Republicans in New York, led by Congresswoman Elise Stefanik, have filed a lawsuit looking to overturn the law. They say that by signing the bill, Hochul is repudiating the will of the voters of New York. In 2021, voters rejected an amendment to the state’s constitution to lift restrictions in place for absentee voting and to enact no-excuses mail-in voting.

Stefanik, in a statement, says mail-in voting is less secure, and that the law is unconstitutional and will unfairly benefit the Democratic Party, which she says is “trying to destroy what is left of election integrity in New York.”

Democrats argue that the law is constitutional because it allows mail-in voting only for early voting, not for Election Day.

Seante sponsor, Deputy Majority Leader Mike Gianaris, says opponents are trying to suppress the vote.

“It will be opposed by people who don’t want people to vote,” Gianaris said.

Gianaris said later in a statement that the lawsuit is being brought by former President Donald Trump “loyalists and insurrection apologists.”

Hochul also signed measures that would create same-day registration on the first day of early voting, tighten up rules for changing an early voting polling place, and allow absentee ballots that were sealed with tape to be counted.

Local jails will now be required to provide voter registration information to those who are being released from custody. And more comprehensive training will be conducted for poll workers.

Hochul also signed a law establishing the date of New York’s presidential primary for April 2, 2024.

Karen DeWitt is Capitol Bureau Chief for New York State Public Radio, a network of 10 public radio stations in New York State. She has covered state government and politics for the network since 1990. She is also a regular contributor to the statewide public television program about New York State government, New York Now. She appears on the reporter’s roundtable segment and interviews newsmakers. Karen previously worked for WINS Radio, New York, and has written for numerous publications, including Adirondack Life and the Albany newsweekly Metroland.