Voting rights in New York state are officially expanded as Gov. Andrew Cuomo on Thursday signed the first bills approved during this year's legislative session into law, but the governor says he will propose further measures designed to encourage voter turnout.
"The early voting is going to be transformative for the system, and one of the things that this legislation does is it brings early voting to New York, and I say 'amen' to that," the governor said at a ceremony for signing early voting into law.
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WHAT VOTING REFORMS ARE NOW LAW IN NEW YORK?
- Early voting that requires counties to allow New Yorkers to vote in person up to 10 days before an election.
- Holding all state primaries in June instead of September.
- Pre-registering 16- and 17-year olds when they sign up for a driving permit so they would automatically be registered when they turn 18, and automatically transferring the names of voters to the rolls of the county which they're moving to.
- Closing of the LLC Loophole — this would limit corporations' ability to open Limited Liability Companies (LLC) and make virtually unlimited political campaign contributions.
The bills passed both chambers easily and with bipartisan support on January 14. Some opponents — mostly Republicans — questioned the added cost of manning polling places for 10 days and said early voting could create opportunities for double voting or other fraud.
"Is this bill the first step to allowing non-citizens to vote in New York?'' asked Republican Sen. Catharine Young of Olean, who said she also worries that early voting will be a financial burden for local governments.
Local governments don't have the money to pay for the costs associated with in-person early voting and are asking Cuomo and lawmakers to add funding in the next state budget, according to a statement from the state association of counties.
Supporters say early voting will increase turnout and reduce lines on Election Day. New York was among the worst 10 states for turnout in both the 2016 and 2018 elections, continuing a long trend of lower-than-average voter participation.
Meanwhile, federal primaries, like those for Congress, are currently held in June in New York, followed by state primaries in September and the general election in November. Combining the primaries in New York would not take effect until 2020.
Republicans have expressed concerns that some lawmakers would be absent at the end of the legislative session, which goes deep into June, if the primary date moves to the same month. Their argument is that some lawmakers may be in their home districts campaigning instead of being in Albany for the end of session.
Cuomo on Thursday also reiterated his desire for upstate polling sites to open earlier in the morning like they do in New York City, allowing people to automatically register to vote and register online, and for the state to make Election Day a holiday. The governor's office stated those proposals will be in an upcoming Cuomo budget.
Also signed into law was a bill to close the limited liability company (LLC) loophole, which allows corporations to make unlimited political contributions. But critics say the bill doesn't go far enough. Lawmakers say they will likely take up a more comprehensive package of campaign finance reforms in the next few weeks, although they did not provide an exact date. That will likely include a component of public financing of elections.
WHAT VOTING REFORMS NEED A CONSTITUTIONAL AMENDMENT?
The legislature is beginning the process of passing constitutional amendments for:
- Same-day voter registration.
- No-fault absentee ballots to allow people to vote by mail.
Possible constitutional changes must pass the legislature twice before going to the voters, meaning those questions could not appear on a ballot until at least 2021.
SIGNING VOTING REFORMS WITH…BEN STILLER
While a handful of state lawmakers were on-hand at Cuomo's signing ceremony, the legislative leaders, Senate Majority Leader Andrea Stewart-Cousins and Assembly Speaker Carl Heastie, did not attend.
Instead, actor and director Ben Stiller was in the spotlight and sat with the governor during the bill signing.
"This issue of voting rights is very important for all New Yorkers. It's fundamental to our democracy," Stiller said.
While Stiller has not been highly visible on this issue, he has been active in New York politics. Last fall, he campaigned for Democrat Andrew Gounardes, who unseated Republican State Sen. Marty Golden in Brooklyn.
But also perhaps playing a factor in his role Thursday, Stiller made a Showtime mini-series, Escape at Dannemora, about the 2015 prison break in upstate New York where he cast actor Michael Imperioli as Cuomo, something the governor apparently enjoyed.
Cuomo is used to negotiating policy issues with legislative leaders, and most of that legislation would get passed as part of the budget due in late March. But with both houses of the state legislature now in Democratic hands, the two legislative leaders have been passing bills much earlier in the session.
"We've been trying for many, many years to pass voting reforms because the truth is New York's voter turnout is among the lowest," the governor said. "So we do have reforms to make, and we've been trying to get them done, and now we have."
And not to miss an opportunity, NY1 asked Stiller whether he urged Cuomo to drop "Blue Steel," the sultry male model look Stiller's Derek Zoolander character gives in the 2001 film, "Zoolander."
LEGISLATION EXPECTED TO BE VOTED ON NEXT WEEK: MORE GUN CONTROL, THE CHILD VICTIMS ACT
Next week, the Assembly and Senate are expected to pass a series of gun control measures. Those would build upon the 2013 SAFE Act, which gave New York some of the strictest gun control laws in the nation.
Late Thursday evening, the governor, Stewart-Cousins, and Heastie also announced an agreement to bring up to a vote the Child Victims Act, which would extend statutes of limitations to give victims more time to seek criminal charges or sue their abusers. The act would also create a one-year window for victims to file lawsuits now barred by the statute of limitations. The act was blocked for years by Senate Republicans, but with Democrats now in charge it should pass. The Catholic Church argues it will be financially devastating.
Information from the Associated Press was used in this story.
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