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Voting Reforms Would Catch New York Up To Neighboring States

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As part of New York Governor Andrew Cuomo’s proposals for the new legislative session, the Democrat aims to reform the state’s election system.  Cuomo is pushing early voting, same-day and automatic voting registration, catching New York up to surrounding states.

On Sunday, a day before Governor Andrew Cuomo launched his six-city State of the State tour, the two-term Democrat sent out a press release announcing he would push for a series of voting reforms in 2017.

The package, dubbed the Democracy Project, includes plans to establish same-day and automatic voter registration in New York, as well as early voting.

Cuomo said in the release that his “proposals will modernize and open up our election system, making it easier for more voters to participate in the process and helping to make a more fair, more just and more representative New York for all.”

Thirty-seven other states and the District of Columbia allow early voting and more than a dozen states and D.C. allow same-day registration.

Blair Horner, Executive Director of the New York Public Interest Research Group, agreed with Cuomo’s assessment that New York’s voting system is antiquated and creates obstacles.

In New York, voters must register at least 25 days before an election.

“Sometimes those timetables get so twisted that it’s even longer, so for example, if an individual wanted to register in a political party  in last year’s political primary in April, they would’ve had to register in early October,” said Horner.

Reforms have also been sought by state Attorney General Eric Schneiderman.

Massachusetts instituted early voting for the first time this past year.

According to Secretary of State William Galvin’s office, more than 22 percent of ballots cast in the state in November came from early voters. Some districts saw early voting participating around 40 percent.

Galvin spoke to WAMC ahead of Election Day. He dismissed concerns about the security and legitimacy of early ballots.

“If there were ever a question raised, and indeed when there are recounts, the cards are hand-counted. So, there’s a clear record of what has occurred. And I think that is the best protection. So it’s not susceptible to hacking if it were an all-electronic system. So I think a lot of the commentary about this is not applicable, at least in Massachusetts,” said Galvin.

Vermont also allows early voting. Vermont Secretary of State Jim Condos previously told WAMC that there’s no difference between early and absentee voting.

“In some states you actually have to have a reason, you have to be ill, you have to be out of town, whatever, in order to request and receive an absentee vote. In Vermont, it’s not. We kind of use the words interchangeably,” said Condos.

On January 1st, Vermont became the 14th state to allow same-day registration. Residents can register at their polling place.  In a statement, Condos said, “The right to vote is the cornerstone of our democracy, and voter participation in local, statewide, and national elections is fundamental to the success of the democratic process.”

Cuomo’s latest voter reforms are similar to proposals he introduced last year that gained no traction.

Horner says the outcome may depend on how the governor ties his reforms into his budget proposal. He adds that over time the state has become increasingly Democratic and that changing the rules could scare incumbents in the legislature from voting on reforms.

“Political realities, I think, are what intrude in New York. To some extent, which is consistent with the rest of the country, but to some extent which is unique to New York, which is you have this bipartisan legislature which leads often to gridlock when it comes to reform,” said Horner.

Governor Cuomo concludes his State of the State tour at the University at Albany today.

Lucas Willard is a reporter and host at WAMC Northeast Public Radio, which he joined in 2011.
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