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February 8, 2017
Attorney General Eric T. Schneiderman Introduces the New York Votes Act, a Comprehensive Bill To Protect And Expand Voting Rights In New York
NEW YORK – Backed by the state’s leading good government groups and elected officials, Attorney General Eric T. Schneiderman today introduced the New York Votes Act, a comprehensive reform package aimed at simplifying the voting process, boosting voter registration, and increasing voter turnout. The New York Votes Act will be sponsored by the Chairman of the Election Law Committee, Assemblyman Michael Cusick (D-Staten Island).
The New York Votes Act will dramatically update the state’s voting systems by adding early voting, automatic and same-day voter registration, consolidated primaries, shortened party registration deadlines, and more.
“Any law that makes it easier to vote is a good law; any law that makes it harder to vote is a bad law,” said Attorney General Schneiderman. “New York has long been a bastion of democracy, but our state’s current system of registration and voting is an affront to that legacy. The New York Votes Act will help our state become a national leader in protecting and expanding voting rights for New Yorkers.”
Many of the provisions in New York Votes Act arise directly from the findings of the Attorney General’s December 2016 report on the problems that voters faced during the 2016 presidential primary and general elections. The inquiry, which was undertaken in response to record voter complaints during the April primary election, found that voters encountered barriers to access erected by New York’s restrictive voting laws, rules and procedures, as well as by the practices and administrative errors of state agencies and the Boards of Election.
New York Votes Act here. Key provisions of the bill include:
**Automatic Registration of Eligible Voters
**Same-Day Registration For New Voters
**Online Personal Voter Registration and Absentee Ballot Applications
**Create a System of “Permanent” Voter Registration
**Allow Registered Voters to Change Their Party Enrollment Closer to **Primary Day
**Adopt a System of Early Voting
**Provide for “No Excuse” Absentee Voting
**Ensure Uniformity of Poll Site Hours Across the State
**Consolidate Federal, State and Local Primaries on Single Day
**Enact Disaster Preparedness Protections
*Enhance Access to the Ballot
**Increase Language Access
**Protect Voters from Improper Challenges
**Restore Voting Rights for Citizens on Parole
**Enhance Poll Worker Training and Recruitment
**Reimburse Localities For Extra Costs
“Voting ease and accessibility is critical to our democracy. Unfortunately, in New York State, we fall behind half the country because of our outdated practices. Attorney General Schneiderman’s New York Votes Act will help bring New York up to speed and ensure New Yorkers statewide aren’t turned away from casting their ballots as a result of senseless roadblocks. In order to have the democracy we seek nationwide, we must lead by example and create a fairer system here in New York,” said Mayor Bill de Blasio.
“New York State ranks abysmally low on voter turnout, and that is the direct result of generations of red tape, voter disenfranchisement, and antiquated registration systems,” said Senate Democratic Leader Andrea Stewart-Cousins. “The Senate Democrats unveiled a series of bills to help address this problem, and we thank Attorney General Schneiderman for his dedication on this issue. Our democracy requires active participation from all citizens and together with Attorney General Schneiderman, we will keep up the fight to achieve that goal.”
State Senator Brad Hoylman said: “Attorney General Schneiderman’s inquiry into voter complaints filed during the 2016 election confirms that our state’s byzantine and cumbersome electoral system, whether by design or by accident, has disenfranchised thousands of New Yorkers. As people take to the streets to protest the Trump Administration, we cannot continue to criticize federal efforts to undermine basic constitutional rights while ignoring inequities in our own backyard. I’m grateful to the Attorney General for this important investigation and look forward to working with him and my colleagues in Albany to enact reforms that will break down these unfair barriers and help expand the franchise to each and every voter.”
“At a time when unsubstantiated voter fraud claims are falsely being spread around, we need more leaders talking about the real problem: voter suppression,” said Council Member Donovan Richards. “This package of reforms will put New York State on the right side of the conversation by improving voter registration accessibility and will surely lead to an increase in voter turnout. I’d like to thank Attorney General Schneiderman for identifying the flaws in our system and working to find realistic, attainable solutions.”
“The League of Women Voters of New York State applauds Attorney General Eric Schneiderman for this comprehensive voting reform package,” said Barbara Bartoletti, Legislative Director for the League of Women Voters of New York State. “New York State continues to rank near the bottom in terms of statewide voter turnout – especially for primary elections. Laws that would allow for automatic voter registration, early voting, no-excuse absentee voting, and consolidation of primary elections will empower voters and give greater access to the ballot. We urge the Governor and Legislature to act on these reforms as soon as possible to ensure future elections do not face the same barriers as the 2016 primary and general elections.”
“New York ranks consistently as one of the nation’s worst in terms of voter participation, driven by state laws that create obstacles to voting,” said Megan Ahearn, NYPIRG Program Director. “Much of the rest of the nation has developed practices that improve voter turnout. The Attorney General’s package relies on those best practices. NYPIRG applauds his sweeping response; one that modernizes state voting laws with an eye toward making participation easier, not harder.”
“With one of the lowest voter turnout rates in the country, New York needs to modernize its outdated elections systems so that more eligible New Yorkers can register and vote. Automatic voter registration stands to add millions more voters to New York’s rolls, and implementing it at agencies beyond the DMV would make our state a nationwide leader. Adding early voting days, including on weekends, would make it significantly more convenient to vote—for some people, it could make all the difference in whether they are able to cast a ballot at all,” said Chisun Lee, Senior Counsel for the Democracy Program at the Brennan Center for Justice. “The Brennan Center applauds the Attorney General for his leadership in calling on the State to bring its elections into the 21st century.”
The Office of the Attorney General (OAG) has a long history of protecting the right to vote for all New Yorkers. Last month, OAG intervened in a federal lawsuit against the New York City Board of Elections (“NYCBOE”), alleging that widespread policies and practices used by the NYCBOE to cancel voter registrations violate federal and state laws. Specifically, the lawsuit alleges that since 2014 the NYCBOE improperly purged over 200,000 voters’ registrations and, as a result, disenfranchised many voters during the 2016 Presidential Primary.
OAG has been a fierce defender of language access at the ballot box. Since 2012, the office has entered into agreements with eight counties aimed at ensuring that Spanish-speaking voters have equal access to the electoral process. The agreements specifically ensure that the local BOEs have Spanish-language voter registration forms, absentee ballot applications, affidavit applications, public notices, website information, polling place reassignment letters and the Election Day ballot itself. In addition, the Boards also agreed to recruit and identify sufficient numbers of Spanish-speaking poll workers and agreed to provide enhanced training for poll workers to ensure that quality language assistance is provided on Election Day.
OAG has also operated its Election Day Hotline since November 2012. The Hotline – reachable at 800-771-7755 — has fielded hundreds of complaints from voters across the state and worked with local election officials and others to promptly address issues encountered by voters at the polls.
The Attorney General’s Office is committed to the voting rights protecting all eligible New Yorkers.
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