Brooklyn, NY On Thursday, January 24, New York State Senator Zellnor Myrie, Chair of the Senate Elections Committee, Senator Brian Kavanagh, Assemblymember Robert Carroll, and Assemblymember Jo Anne Simon joined their colleagues and Governor Andrew Cuomo as he signed into law several historic election reform bills. The Brooklyn legislators all sponsored various pieces of the historic voting rights package, which were passed in both houses of the legislature on Monday, January 14, 2019.
The package included bills to allow for early voting (Myrie, S1102) and a campaign finance reform bill to close the notorious LLC Loophole (Kavanagh, S1101/Simon, A776), among others. The legislature also passed a constitutional amendment to enact same-day voter registration, which will need to be passed again in the next legislative session and then approved by a statewide referendum (Carroll, A777).
The voting reforms signaled the Senate Democratic Majoritys newfound power and intention to move swiftly on progressive legislation. On just the first day of legislative activity, the State Assembly and State Senate both passed the package of reforms to New Yorks election and campaign finance laws. While the Assembly, controlled by the Democrats, had passed each of these bills annually for years, the previous Senate Majority, led by Republicans, refused to allow a vote on the common sense election reforms.
Senator Zellnor Myrie said, Voting is the right that protects all other rights, yet too many New Yorkers struggle to get to the ballot box because of family responsibilities, work responsibilities, or other barriers. Early voting will give more people the opportunity to vote, making our government more inclusive, responsible, and accountable to its voters. Make no mistake: this is far from the end to our voting reform efforts. Our state needs a whole host of reforms to repair and expand New Yorkers right to vote. Im looking forward to working with my colleagues to ensure that all eligible New Yorkers can make their voices heard at the ballot box.
Senator Brian Kavanagh said, "The legislation Governor Cuomo is signing today is nothing short of transformative. Until today, our state has had some of the worst election laws in the country, making it unnecessarily difficult to vote and allowing special interests to drown out the voices of millions of New Yorkers by giving unlimited amounts of money to politicians through LLCs. For years, Democrats in both the Senate and the Assembly, with the Governor's support, have fought to change this, and as an Assemblymember I was proud to sponsor and pass nearly all of the bills being signed into law today--only to see them blocked by Senate Republicans. The sweeping reforms to our broken voting system that we are enacting under the leadership of Leader Stewart-Cousins, Speaker Heastie, and Governor Cuomo make it clear that we want every eligible voter to participate in our democracy without undue hardship. I am particularly proud to stand with Zellnor Myrie and our fellow Brooklyn lawmakers and voters who have been at the forefront of these changes. And closing the LLC Loophole--the most egregious defect in our campaign finance system--will cut off an enormous flow of unlimited, often virtually anonymous campaign contributions that have allowed certain individuals and narrow business interests to buy influence wholesale. This is a huge first step in what I hope will be a broader modernization of our campaign finance system. Senator Kavanagh served as the ranking member of the Senate Elections Committee in 2018 and was the prime sponsor of nearly all of these bills during his time in the Assembly.
Assemblymember Jo Anne Simon said, New Yorkers deserve transparency and fairness in the electoral process and closing the notorious LLC loophole is an important step forward. New York will no longer allow the wealthy and special interests to anonymously pour unlimited amounts of money into campaigns in hopes of influencing preferred candidates. Closing the LLC loophole will blunt the outsized influence of those who control LLCs and enable the voices of average New Yorkers to be heard. Im also thrilled that New York is modernizing our voting system through reforms like early voting and no-excuse absentee voting, which will make voting much easier for New Yorkers. I am thankful to the voting rights advocates and to Senator Brian Kavanagh for his longtime leadership on this issue.
Assemblymember Robert Carroll said, As a member of the Assembly Election Law committee, a former election lawyer and someone who has been advocating for electoral reform for many years prior to my election in 2016 I am proud and heartened that the first thing we did this legislative session was take steps to reform New York's antiquated voting laws. Reforms like Early Voting, No Excuse Absentee Voting and closing the LLC loophole will expand access to the polls, make our elections more fair and make it easier for New Yorkers to practice their constitutional right to vote. Â The effects of some of these reforms will be seen immediately in our 2019 elections, while others, like Same Day Registration, on which I am the prime sponsor, will require additional steps necessary for a constitutional change, so we must continue to fight for these and additional reforms like establishing electronic poll books, minimizing the party enrollment change deadline to the constitutional minimum of 10 days, lowering the voting age to 17 and more.
BACKGROUND ON THE REFORMS SIGNED INTO LAW:
The below bills were signed into law on January 24, 2019, with the exception of the bills to enact same-day registration and no-excuse absentee ballots, which require amendments to New Yorks constitution and therefore must pass in two consecutive legislative sessions and then be approved by a statewide referendum. This series of reforms impacts three major areas of election law:
- Early Voting (Myrie, S1102/Lavine, A780): This bill establishes an Early Voting system, allowing eligible voters in New York State to vote in person during a specific window in advance of Election Day.
- No-Excuse Absentee Voting (Comrie, S1049/Vanel, A778): This bill will amend the state Constitution to allow for any voter to request to vote by mail without declaring a reason, subject to second passage of the next legislature and approval by a statewide referendum.
- Consolidation of Federal and State Primaries (Stewart-Cousins, S1103/Lavine, A779): This bill will make sure federal and state primary elections occur on the same day, saving taxpayer dollars and time for voters. It also puts New Yorks election law in compliance with the federal Military and Overseas Voter Empowerment (MOVE) Act.
Reforming the Campaign Finance System
- Closing the LLC Loophole (Kavanagh, S1101/Simon, A776): This bill amends Election Law to ensure that limited liability corporations adhere to the same $5,000 contribution limit as corporations. This amendment also requires that LLCs making contributions to campaigns disclose the identity and proportion of ownership of all direct and indirect owners of that LLCs membership interests. Finally, it requires all contributions to made to political committees or campaigns by an LLC be attributed to each member in proportion to that members ownership interest.
Improving the Voter Registration Processes
- Same-Day Voter Registration (Gianaris, S1048/Carroll, A777): This bill amends the state constitution to remove the ten-day advance voter registration requirement, subject to second passage of the next legislature and approval by a statewide referendum.
- Voter Registration Transfers (Carlucci, S1099/Dinowitz, A775): Â This bill will require the Board of Elections to transfer the registration and enrollment of a voter to wherever they move in New York State.
- Voter Pre-Registration (Carlucci, S1100/Lavine, A774): This bill will enable 16- and 17-year olds to pre-register to vote and requires local boards of education to adopt policies to promote student voter registration and pre-registration.
The high voter turnout in this past midterm election put pressure on New Yorks archaic system, particularly in New York City, where massive crowds and slow lines left voters frustrated and discouraged. With this package of bills, legislators expect that voter registration processes and election day operations will become smoother, allowing more New Yorkers to cast their ballots. By offering more voters the opportunity to vote in advance or by mail, fewer New Yorkers will need to show up at the polls on Election Day, and will be able to tend to other obligations. Similarly, combining Federal and State primaries will reduce the amount of time voters will need to take away from their jobs or families in order to vote.
Once enacted, these reforms will expand the flexibility to vote that already exists in many other states across the country, reducing undue burdens on voters and bringing New Yorks election laws into the twenty-first century.