The 2019 session of the New York State legislature has now come to a close. The new unified Democratic government led by Assembly Speaker Carl E. Heastie and Majority Leader Andrea Stewart Cousins along with Gov. Andrew Cuomo promised swift and substantial actions on long dormant election reforms. They delivered on that promise with the most consequential session for Election Reform in decades. Reforms were enacted to make it easier to register and vote, to give aid to counties, to make it easier for students to participate in our democracy, strengthen our campaign finance laws, and upgrade our election infrastructure.
In New York, election reform used to move at a glacial pace, this year we saw a virtual flood of legislation. The New York State Assembly under the leadership of Heastie has long been friends and supporters for election reform advocates, and this year they were joined by new friends, the Democratic majority of the state Senate under Stewart-Cousins. This dynamic duo, along with the leadership of the governor, combined to give us the most consequential sessions on election reform in New York State history.
Election reform was a part of the first day of session and continued throughout the year as members in both houses worked to fix New York’s antiquated election laws. They listened to activists and election professionals and put the needs of New York’s 9 million voters at the front of every decision. The laws passed this session will transform New York State. The reforms citizens will see most dramatically at the polls this year are:
Early voting: New York will be the 39th state to have a form of early voting starting this general election. Nine days and two full weekends will be available in every county for the convenience of voters.
Unified June primary: New York will no longer be the only state in the nation with a separate federal and local primary. Moving to a unified primary in June will not only save approximately $25 million state wide, it will allow the voters more time between primary and general election to make informed decisions.
Party enrollment date change: No longer will voters have to change their parties almost 11 months ahead of a primary. On or before Feb. 14 of each year a voter can choose to fall in love with the party of their choice by enrolling in that party and be eligible to vote in the primary later in June.
Electronic poll books and on-demand ballot printing: This was essential for making early voting work but will also help on Election Day. This technology upgrade will save thousands of dollars for each county board of election by eliminating printing costs as well as overtime by staff with hundreds of staff hours saved each election.
Universal transfers of registrations: No longer will voters who move right before an election have to waste time on court orders or risk having their affidavit vote not counted. In our mobile and modern society this change can save the votes of thousands of voters statewide.
In addition to these reforms, in 2020 pre-registration of 16- and 17-year-olds and the Voter Friendly Ballot Act will be enacted. In 2021 online voter registration will be added and they started constitutional amendments that will enact same day registration and no excuse absentees by 2022. The Legislature also acted to make it easier for students at SUNY and CUNY schools to register and vote and close the LLC loophole, which will strengthen our campaign finance laws. They also ended the session with a commitment to bring automatic voter registration to a vote in early 2020 for implementation in 2021. Lastly they funded early voting in 2019 with direct operational grants and grants for conversion to electronic poll books.
As elections commissioners we are committed and excited to be enacting these reforms in 2019 and beyond. The leadership of Speaker Carle E. Heastie, Senate Majority Leader Andrea Stewart Cousins, as well as Gov. Andrew Cuomo, has made it possible to transform the electoral landscape of New York state. We look forward to their support and leadership throughout the rest of 2019 and can’t wait to see what the 2020 session will bring for the voters of the Empire State.