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Regional News

Not all of NY's new voting reforms benefit voters, advocate says

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Over the weekend, Gov. Andrew Cuomo signed a package of voting reforms, including ones that ease the rules and restrictions on mail-in absentee balloting.

But a leading voter access advocate said the state still has more to do before mail-in balloting is universally accessible.

The bills that Cuomo approved include eliminating the requirement that voters have to submit signed applications for absentee ballots. They will now be able to request the ballots by an unsigned letter or by going online to get one mailed to them.

Ballots now can be postmarked up until Election Day. Previously, they had to be stamped seven days before Election Day in order to count.

The legislation also requires boards of elections to better inform voters when changes are made to polling places.

Jennifer Wilson with the League of Women Voters said some of the changes are positive steps in the ongoing process of easing New York’s often-confusing voting procedures. But she said others are not so beneficial.

“We don’t love all of them, truthfully,” Wilson said.

She said one of the changes takes New York backward. It will require voters to request an absentee ballot 15 or more days before an election, instead of the prior rule of seven days. Lawmakers say they are following the advice of the federal Postal Service, which says more time is needed due to chronic delays in delivering mail because of staff reductions and other cost-cutting measures.

Wilson said New York now has one of the earliest deadlines in the nation for requesting ballots.

“Not all of these policies are pro-voter policies,” said Wilson, who added that if the deadline had to be lengthened, it should have been 11 days before elections, not 15.

Some bigger changes to voting rules could take place after this November’s elections. A measure on the ballot this fall would amend the state’s constitution to allow for widespread mail-in voting. It could lead to “no excuse” absentee voting by ending the requirement that voters can only get absentee ballots if they are ill or out of the state on Election Day.

During the height of the COVID-19 pandemic, New Yorkers could request a ballot if they cited the pandemic as a reason, but those exceptions have now ended.

A second ballot referendum would pave the way for same-day voter registration by rescinding the constitutional requirement that voters must register to vote 10 days or longer before an election.

Even if New York’s voters approve the measures, the governor and Legislature would still have to create new laws in 2022 to specifically allow same-day voter registration and universal mail-in voting by the fall.

Other voting law changes approved by Cuomo include a rule that will allow candidates who lose in a party primary election to remove their name from minor party ballot lines if they wish to do so.