State Attorney General Recommends Fix To New York's Restrictive Voting Laws

Dec 6, 2016

A.G. Schneiderman released a report Tuesday on voter complaints during Presidential primary in April.

The state’s Attorney General has released a package of bills aimed at improving what he said is the state’s “arcane” and “ridiculous” voting laws that bar many potential voters from the ballot box.

Attorney General Eric Schneiderman began a statewide inquiry after his office received a record number of complaints about lack of voter access during the April Presidential primary.

In New York we have what amounts to legal voter suppression,” Schneiderman said.

He said the “profound and widespread” issues include disappearing polling places, and poorly trained poll workers turning away voters who sought affidavit ballots. Many polls that were open saw long lines and reduced hours.

And he said laws that have resulted in New York’s third worst voter participation in the nation, and fifth worst voter registration numbers need to be changed.

The Attorney General’s recommendations include getting rid of lengthy six month waiting period to change party enrollment before a primary. That rule prevented even Republican Presidential candidate Donald Trump’s own children from voting for their father in the New York primary back in April.

Schneiderman also wants early voting, and allowing voters to obtain and mail in absentee ballots without having to come up with a reason, essentially enacting voting by mail. He also thinks eligible voters should be automatically registered, and that they should be able to register to vote on Election Day.

The Attorney General was joined by numerous government reform groups.

The state legislature has in the past resisted changes to voter access, and Schneiderman acknowledges that the current laws do benefit many incumbents, who may find it easier to win with fewer unknown new voters.

But he said the makeup of the Senate and Assembly is changing, and may be more receptive to reforms, especially with all of the national attention that voter access is now receiving.

“There’s been a huge generational shift in the makeup of the legislature,” he said.

During the April primary, many supporters of Democratic Presidential candidate Bernie Sanders complained that New York’s strict laws shut them out of the ballot box. Schneiderman said his report found no evidence that if his proposed changes were in effect, the outcome of the primary vote would have been any different, he said Hillary Clinton had a lot of support in the state. But he said if the changes resulted in doubling the amount of regular voters in New York, it could “transform” election outcomes in the future.

To help alleviate these challenges, Schneiderman introduced the 2017 New York Votes Act, a comprehensive bill to reform the state’s voting systems. The reforms are aimed at simplifying the voting process, boosting voter registration, and expanding voter turnout, according  to the Attorney General's website.

The reforms include:

  • Voter Registration
    • Automatic Registration of Eligible Voters: Any state or local “source agency” that collects information from a person who has formal contact with that agency as part of an application, registration or other similar process would be required to automatically electronically transmit identifying information for that person (e.g., name, address, date of birth, driver’s license number, Social Security Number) to the New York State Board of Elections (BOE) for inclusion in a statewide voter registration database.
    • Same-Day Registration For New Voters: Amend New York State Election Law to permit a qualified person who is not registered to vote in the state to appear personally at the appropriate polling place on the day of any primary, general or special election, register to vote, and simultaneously cast his or her ballot. Once the registration is vetted, the voter’s ballot would be counted, and the voter would be added to the voting rolls
    • Online Voter Registration: Allow electronic voter registration, so that any qualified registrant can complete the entire registration process online via a desktop computer or handheld device
    • Create a System of Permanent Voter Registration: Implement a system of “permanent” voter registration in the state by requiring the State BOE and local BOEs to update the registration of any consenting voter who moves within the state and submits change of address information to officials at designated government agencies.
    • Allow Registered Voters to Change Their Party Enrollment Closer to Primary Day: Allow already-registered voters to change their party affiliation up to 25 days (if so postmarked by mail) or up to ten days (if delivered in person to the local BOE) prior to any primary election
  • Voting
    • Adopt a System of Early Voting: Permit a registered voter to vote at the local BOE in the same county or city where the voter is registered, and at one or more other designated polling places, seven days per week (excluding certain holidays) starting two weeks before an election
    • Provide for "No Excuse" Absentee Voting: Repeal, in its entirety, the current requirement that absentee ballots can only be obtained and cast by otherwise qualified voters if they meet one of several statutorily-enumerated justifications for obtaining such ballots. The bill also would allow online submission of applications for absentee ballots.
    • Ensure Uniformity of Poll Site Hours Across the State: Require poll sites to open at 6:00 a.m. and close at 9:00 p.m. during all primary elections.
    • Consolidate Federal, State and Local Primaries on Single Day: Hold all statewide primary elections on one day in early June.
    • Enact Disaster Preparedness Protections: Vest authority in the Governor to delay elections; create procedures for relocating poll sites and extended absentee voting periods after a disaster; and provide broad authority to the State BOE to create the rules and plans necessary to conduct an election during an emergency
  • Enhance Access to the Ballot
    • Increase Language Access: Whenever any local BOE finds that 3% of the voting-age residents of an election precinct have Limited English Proficiency, according to the U.S. Census Bureau, it shall provide ballots as well as registration or voting notices, forms, instructions, assistance, and other materials or information relating to the electoral process in the primary language of the population in question, in a manner that provides the same opportunity for access and participation as voters whose primary language is English
    • Protect Voters from Improper Challenges: Require a good faith basis and supporting documentation for anyone challenging voter eligibility on Election Day, as well as penalties for those who abuse this provision of the law
    • Restore Voting Rights for Citizens on Parole: Restore voting rights to parolees with felony convictions. Restoration would not be contingent upon payment of fees, fines, restitution, or other legal financial obligations
    • Enhance Poll Worker Training and Recruitment: Mandate all poll workers in the state complete training approved by the State BOE. Also, help local BOEs strengthen existing training programs

The full “Report On Voter Access In The 2016 Presidential Primary” is available here.