On Election Reform, Two Steps Forward, One Step Back

September 17, 2009

On September 17, 2009, Governor David Paterson acted on three bills passed by the New York State Assembly and Senate that called for vital reforms to New York’s election laws. Although he signed two of these bills into law, the Governor also vetoed one, presenting a sobering reminder that while constructive change may come, it may not come easily.

The two bills Governor Paterson signed represent serious steps toward modernizing New York’s election law. Assembly bill A.03367A, which Kavanagh co-sponsored, simplifies the requirements for applying for an absentee ballot and, for the first time, permits primary caregivers of sick or disabled persons to vote by absentee ballot. As a result of this bill’s enactment, caregivers will no longer need to make the choice between caring for patients or loved ones and participating in the democratic process.

Also signed into law, A.08527, which Kavanagh supported in the Assembly, permits the printing of machine-readable paper ballots in preparation for the complete statewide roll-out of optical ballot scanning machines, slated for 2010. Under the new system, voters will mark paper ballots by hand, or with the assistance of ballot marking devices, and feed them into an optical scanning machine, which will tally the votes. By providing for electronically readable ballots, this bill is critical to New York’s efforts to modernize voting systems while ensuring verifiable results.

On the other hand, the Governor vetoed A.00584A, which would have required all polling places to be accessible to disabled voters. In his veto message, Paterson expressed his full support for the bill’s goals and characterized his veto as “reluctant,” stemming from concerns about the practicality of the timeframe for complying with the bill’s requirements. The Governor said he planned a “working group” dedicated to tackling the issue, which will include representatives from his office and that of New York City Mayor Michael Bloomberg.

Kavanagh expressed disappointment in the veto of the bill, which he co-sponsored in the Assembly, but looks forward to working with the Governor’s and the Mayor’s office to resolve the issues and ensure access. “I am encouraged by Governor Paterson’s support for the principle that polling sites should be accessible for all New Yorkers statewide,” Kavanagh said, “and I urge him to work with all parties to develop an implementation schedule that enables us to achieve this goal as quickly as possible.”

Kavanagh chairs the Assembly’s Subcommittee on Election Day Operations and Voter Disenfranchisement. If you have suggestions or concerns about election or voting rights issues, please contact Ames Grawert in Kavanagh’s district office at 212-979-9696.