NYS Legislature must make voting reform job one

This past November, the citizens of New York turned out in record numbers to reform and reshape New York state government. Driving many voters to the polls was an effort to change our antiquated election system in New York state. Often these reforms were blocked by the Republican Party leadership in the New York state Senate. The voters rebelled against this and voted to unify New York state government with a mandate to reform our electoral process. The Legislature and Gov. Andrew Cuomo are promising to heed this call. We support this decision and urge them to act early in the next session to provide the reform voters want.

The Democratic elections commissioners of New York state are eager to enact these reforms. Last March, our caucus embraced many of the reforms that are being discussed today. We once again affirm our commitment to working with lawmakers on all sides to help shape reasonable and responsible legislation to modernize our electoral system. Among the many reforms needed we support the following:

A unified primary in June: New York state Is the only state in the nation that has two primaries for determining general election candidates. Our September primary is in violation of the federal MOVE Act and, for the last six years, this has resulted in two primaries in federal years — a federal primary in June and a local primary in September. It is estimated that this has cost New York state taxpayers $50 million each federal year and causes voter fatigue and confusion. A move to a June primary will not only save precious taxpayer dollars, but alleviate calendar issues that prevent other reforms. We urge an immediate adoption of a unified primary in June.

Early voting and no-fault absentee: Thirty-seven other states enjoy the convenience and benefit of early voting. This vital electoral tool for is long overdue in New York state. We urge the adoption of early voting with at least two full weekends for New York voters. We also urge a permanent funding source be provided from the state so the added cost is not a burden to county governments. A move to electronic poll books will also ensure the success of early voting and modernize the Election Day experience for voters. In addition we urge the Legislature to start the process of a constitutional amendment to move to a no-fault absentee voting system.

Modernize our registration system: New York state’s antiquated registration could benefit from proven reforms we see happening in other states. First among these reforms is automatic voter registration (AVR). A switch to an opt-out instead of an opt-in system will remove one of the biggest barriers to participation: registration. An online voter registration system managed by New York State Board of Elections will provide oversight to the Department of Motor Vehicles and other agencies, so they comply within guidelines to ensure accurate and timely registration. We also urge the Legislature to remove the restriction on polling places for affidavit ballots and start the constitutional process for same-day registration for all voters who may fall through the gaps of an AVR system.

End fusion voting: Many of the frustrations of our voting system stem from “fusion voting.” The fusion voting system encourages minor parties that are parties in name only, and act as cross-endorsement agents of major parties. Competition over minor party lines lead to ballot delays and voter confusion. We urge the legislature to take a serious look in to ending fusion voting and providing clarity to voters.

Make general Election Day a state holiday: We applaud the governor’s call for a state holiday for general Election Day. Not only will this properly emphasize the importance of Election Day, it will free up potential polling places in schools and much-needed inspectors from the ranks of municipal and state employees.

New York state voters have awaited reforms for a very long time. The Legislature should move quickly to pass legislation to start the process of reform over the next year. By the time New York state participates in our presidential election year of 2020, we should be well on the way of reforming our voting process. Voters of New York deserve swift answers to their calls for reform. It is our hope that with a unified New York state government, the obstacles of the past are removed and we can look forward to a bright future for our electoral system.

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