Gov. Andrew Cuomo is once again calling for reforms to New York's electoral system, but there are some new additions to the agenda this year to address concerns about cybersecurity and entities funding political communications.
Cuomo, a Democrat, announced the proposals Thursday. The comprehensive agenda is part of his 2018 State of the State address, which he will deliver Jan. 3 in Albany.
As he has in past years, Cuomo wants to allow early voting in New York. According to the National Conference of State Legislatures, 37 states and the District of Columbia have some form of early voting system. Supporters of early voting say it could help boost voter turnout in New York, which has one of the lowest voter turnout rates in the country.
Cuomo's plan would require every county to open at least one polling location during the 12 days prior to Election Day. The polling site must be open at least eight hours on weekdays and five hours on weekends. There should be one early voting site for every 50,000 residents in the county.
Another proposal is automatic voter registration. For example, if you fill out a form at the Department of Motor Vehicles, your information will be relayed to the county Board of Elections and you will be automatically registered to vote. There will be an option if you do not wish to register to vote.
Cuomo is also pushing for same-day voter registration. The state doesn't allow voters to register on Election Day. Same-day voter registration is permitted in 13 states and the District of Columbia.
Election infrastructure improvements
With concerns about cybersecurity and the integrity of voting systems, Cuomo unveiled a four-point plan to bolster New York's election infrastructure.
A collection of agencies will form the Election Support Center to provide expertise and help develop cybersecurity regulations. The center will be tasked with relaying best practices to county boards and distributing threat information to local officials.
Cybersecurity is a concern for local and state election officials. Russian hackers targeted election software used by four counties, including Cayuga, in 2016. While there didn't appear to be a breach, it led to a greater focus on securing election systems.
Cuomo's other proposals to boost security include:
• Creating a cybersecurity toolkit that will provide county boards with access to log analysis, network monitoring, distributed denial of service defenses during elections and voter registration times and change-detection software to monitor voter database changes. The toolkit will be updated annually.
• Counties will be required to notify the state Board of Elections and the New York State Police if there is a data breach that could expose private voter or election data. The state Board of Elections will be required to release an annual election security report to the governor and state Legislature.
• To assist county election boards, the state Information Technology Services Office will provide vulnerability assessments to ensure the protection of voting machines. The state will also provide a free disaster recovery service.
"What we saw during the last election was a systematic effort to undermine and manipulate our very democracy," Cuomo said. "With these new safeguards, New York — in the strongest terms possible — will combat unscrupulous and shadowy threats to our electoral process, as well as break down fundamental barriers that for far too long have prevented New Yorkers from being heard and from exercising their right to vote."
Digital ad transparency
There is a push at the federal level to ensure greater disclosure of the entities paying for digital political advertisements. The legislative effort stems from the revelation that Russians funded political ads on social media platforms that were viewed by millions of Americans.
An estimated 126 million Americans viewed Facebook ads paid for by Russia during the 2016 election. On Twitter, there were 131,000 messages linked to more than 36,000 Russian accounts.
Cuomo's proposal is to amend the state's definition of political communication to include internet advertisements. Current law is limited to advertisements that appear in newspapers or on radio or television. Online ads aren't covered.
Under Cuomo's plan, digital election-related messages must include a disclosure of who paid for the ad. Anyone who doesn't abide by this requirement could be forced to pay a fine of up to $1,000.
Cuomo also wants to require digital platforms to create a public file of all political communications purchased by an individual or group related to state elections. The file would consist of a digital copy of the ad, a description of the audience targeted by the ad, the number of views generated, the dates and times of publication, the rates charged for the ad and the contact information of the purchaser.
Lastly, Cuomo wants to require online platforms to ensure foreign individuals and entities will not secretly fund ads that seek to influence New York elections. A person or entity seeking to buy digital ads would be required to register as an independent expenditure committee. Foreign entitles will be blocked from forming an independent committee.
U.S. Sen. Amy Klobuchar, ranking member of the Senate Rules Committee and the sponsor of the Honest Ads Act, praised Cuomo for taking action at the state level to increase transparency in digital election ad campaigns.
"The federal government and states must work together to stop foreign influence and improve accountability in online political advertising," Klobuchar, D-Minnesota, said. "The American people deserve nothing less."