The New York Legislature officially wrapped up their 2022 session this month. For those unfamiliar with how our legislature works “session”, or the time when the legislature is actively meeting to pass legislation, lasts from January to June each year. Though constituent work and committee meetings happen throughout the year, actual legislation must be passed before the end of session in June. While it is possible that the legislature can be called back for special session, this is for emergency legislation, and it is doubtful that election bills alone would be the subject of such a session.
I have decided to do a wrap up of the Election related bills that passed both houses this year. Many await the Governor’s signature, and some are not effective immediately. It is rare for a Governor to veto election legislation but sometimes she can reach agreements with the legislature to alter or delay the effectiveness. Normally a Governor will have 10 days to sign bills once they are delivered to her. However, the Governor must either call the bills up or the legislature decide to deliver them. For bill passed during legislative session they have until the end of the calendar year to be delivered so some of these bills may not be signed until later in the year.
Here are the bills with brief thoughts by me.
A831A/S4591 Requires congressional, senatorial, assembly and election district maps be made available on applicable board of elections’ websites and in a downloadable Shapefile format. Effective 180 days after signing, Awaiting Signature
This bill will require the shape files Boards of Elections create for their election districts to be on their website ready to be downloaded by the public. This is especially important after redistricting years where Election Districts are being changed to accommodate all the lines being drawn by State and local legislatures. We already do this at Onondaga County and its simply zipping the files and having them as a downloadable link. Some small boards will have to liaison with their county GIS departments to create the files, but once done this should not be a burden and may benefit Boards of Elections to eliminate requests from citizens to their offices.
A4158/S156 Relates to prohibiting private individuals or entities to pay for the administrative expenses associated with the conduct of a referendum Effective Immediate, Awaiting Signature
This bill will prohibit private developers who may benefit from a permissive or mandatory referendum from paying for the cost of the referendum. There have been several instances of private developers enticing Town boards to pass certain laws that may require a referendum by offering to pay for the cost. In some cases, it was feared the private entity was going as far as to dictate when the referendum would be scheduled so as to hinder the public’s ability to weigh in on the law. This act bans that practice and keeps the entity running the election free to make all choices regarding it.
A7748A/S3855 Relates to authorizing registration records of victims of sexual violence to be kept confidential in certain cases Effective 120 days After Signing, Awaiting Signature
This bill expands the eligibility of victims of some crimes to have their address withheld from the public voter registration rolls. Voter addresses are public record and previously only persons who were victims of domestic violence could petition the boards to keep their addresses confidential. This expands that protection to victims of sex crimes defined under article 130 of the NY Penal Law.
A7933C/S6901 Includes individuals who do not identify exclusively as a binary gender in eligibility for party positions Effective Immediately, Awaiting Signature
In New York State the State Party committees for the Republican and Democratic party have rules providing for equal representation of their party committee members of “the sexes.” This meant one male and or female representative for State Party Committee for each Assembly district would be listed on the ballot and primaries for such position would be by gender. The new law will require that if a party provides for such a rule that they must include options for those wishing to run who do not identify exclusively as a binary gender. It will be up to the State Parties to determine how that will work in their structures and pass such a rule before the next State Party election (2024).
A9423A/S8409 Reduces the signature requirement for petitions for candidates for the school board of the city of Buffalo. Effective Immediately, Awaiting Signature
While this law is germane to just the City of Buffalo, if signed it may open up other cities to make this change. Currently most cities have school boards that run city wide. The petition requirements for school board members were the same as mayors and other city-wide elected officials. This is an undue burden for an office that has little benefit in terms of salary if elected. Lowering the requirements to run may enable more dedicated candidates to run for school board in Buffalo and could be something the legislature expands to other cities as well.
A9508/S8552 Requires the board of elections to mail notice of ensuing primary and general elections, registration status, polling place location and other information to active voters between the third Tuesday in April and the second Friday in May each year. Effective Immediately, SIGNED
This legislation is already in effect and moves the dates of the informational mailers later in the calendar year. While this was to help with the changes in redistricting this year, this is also a beneficial change for later years. By moving the informational mailing later, it will coincide with the designation of Early Voting sites and can either ben included on the mailing or links to a website with the current information on it.
A9960/S9343 Repeals certain provisions relating to absentee voting in primary elections for certain party positions. Effective Immediately, Awaiting Signature
This repeals a section of law that did not allow absentee balloting for certain party positions if in a primary. State Committee and County Committee seats are actually public offices that can have primaries to determine the winners of. Before 2020 these positions were excluded from absentee balloting and the only option was to vote in person. During the pandemic, an executive order included party position primaries on absentee ballots and this law will make that permanent. This is an expansion of Democracy and actually will eliminate confusion of having different rules for different offices for Boards of Elections.
A1144/S253A Relates to ballots where the express intent of the voter is unambiguous Effective Immediately, Awaiting Signature
This will allow for voter intent in an absentee ballot to be determined by the board in counting races. Currently this standard only applies to hand counted races that fall under the 5% close contest rule. It is unclear how Board of Elections will apply these standards as ballots are mostly scanned before Election Day. The State Board of Elections will have to issue guidance on how this can be accomplished if signed into law.
A642/S284C Requires counting affidavit ballots of eligible voters if a voter appears at a polling place in the correct county but in the incorrect election district Effective 1/1/23, Awaiting Signature
This is the “wrong church” bill and one of the more impactful bills passed this year. The old law provided that if a voter showed up at the wrong polling place and voted by Affidavit Ballot the entire ballot would not count. Many times, the voter would be eligible to vote in all or most of the races they cast votes for. This new law will extend the practice that Boards of Elections already follow for voters that show up at the correct polling place but sign in at the wrong table to all voters who show up in the right county and right assembly district but wrong polling place. The races they are eligible to vote in will count and discard the ones they are not.
A6678E/S1046 Relates to the John R. Lewis Voting Rights Act of New York; establishes rights of actions for denying or abridging the right of any member of a protected class to vote; provides assistance to language-minority groups; provides for preclearance of certain voting policies; makes related provisions. Effective 3 years from signing, 1 year from AG Certification. Awaiting Signature
Definitely the most impactful election bill passed this session. The New York Voting Rights act is an expansive and comprehensive package that will allow the Attorney General to intervene in New York elections where inequities occur. It spans from school board elections to polling place changes. It is the strongest state voter protection act in the nation. That being said it will be several years before it becomes effective e. The NY Attorney General must staff up and then some of the benefits will be in place 1 year after she certifies it is ready. In addition, many provisions have a three-year ramp up as well.
A1819A/S1851A Relates to state party names Effective 1/1/23, Awaiting Signature
This bill will prohibit the use of the term “independence” or “Independent” in a state party name. For years New York had a recognized state party named “Independence Party” This confused many voters who thought they were not enrolling in a party when in fact they were selecting “independence party” on their enrollment forms. This will prohibit a party from using that name if it is a recognized party getting the required voting amount at a Governor’s election.
A8858A/S2951A Reduces the time for mailing and receipt of registration application to constitutional minimum Effective 1/1/23, Awaiting Signature
This bill will have the most impact on local Board of Elections. The current registration deadline is 25 days before Election Day for new registrants. The New York Constitution says the minimum day before an Election to have a registration cut off is 10 days. This will allow for new voters to register or change their address 10 days before the election. In addition, since Early Voting starts on the 10th day before the election it will act as a “golden day” which will allow for same-day registration and voting for that day. Special note that this act actually reduces the mail-in date to 15 days before the election which extends to DMV and online registration. After that mark someone must appear at a Board of Election to register in person.
A8432A/S7565B Provides for absentee voting in village elections and extends provisions relating to absentee voting Effective Immediately, SIGNED
This bill extended the pandemic absentee protections for village elections for 2021. Important to note that all elections, Village and normal, will revert back to the traditional excuse-based absentees in 2023.
A4261/S4413 Relates to specification of objections to designating petitions, independent nominating petitions, certificates of nomination or ballot access documents Effective 90 days after signing, Awaiting Signature
This will require local Board of Elections to follow the State Board of Elections procedures for objections to petitions and certificates of nominations. This will require more transparency for local Boards of Elections as well as holding hearings and proper notification before ruling on objections.
A8772/S7799 Relates to the effectiveness of provisions relating to providing an online absentee ballot tracking system. Effective Immediately, SIGNED
This bill was signed earlier this year. The New York State Board of Elections has still not launched this tracker as they are working with the various registration vendors to develop this tracker. It is hoped it will be launched this year, but it is not ready yet.
A10135/S8949 Provides for the declination of a designation as a candidate or nomination for a party position under special circumstances Effective Immediately, SIGNED
This bill allows for a candidate to remove themselves from the ballot if they are indicted on a felony. This bill was passed in the wake of then Lt Governor Brian Benjamin’s indictment but is a permanent change to New York Election Law. This in my opinion is the right change to our electoral code as it would allow truth in the ballot since candidates who no longer wished to be on the ballot can remove themselves without going through the machinations of being nominated for other offices or moving.
A10505/S9466 Expands the number of judges in certain judicial districts and the family courts of New York city and Nassau and Saratoga counties. Effective Immediately, Awaiting Signature
This final bill expanded the number of Supreme Court seats in New York. The Supreme Court is overloaded, and we will be seeing expansion bills like this almost every year for the next few years. We had it last year in the fifth judicial and if this is signed in time, we will have a 4th Supreme Court judicial seat this year as well.
(EDIT: Prepaid absentee postage for Applications and Ballots will begin July 1, 2022. This is a permanent change for future elections. This was done during the NYS Budget and not a separate bill so no bill number to link to)
What did not get signed
No session gets to every bill but notably there are two major legislative priorities that did not get passed this session. Notably neither the Senate or Assembly re-introduced the No fault absentee or same-day registration Constitutional amendments that failed at the ballot box last year. To alter the NY Constitution, you must pass constitutional amendments in two separately elected legislatures and then it must pass on the ballot. The thought was to try and get it introduced again this year to align with the Presidential election in 2024 so more voters can weigh in on these measures. Because they were not introduced, and because it is unlikely a legislature will put these measures on odd numbered lower turnout years again, we may be waiting until 2026 for another chance at voting on these amendments.
The other major piece of legislation was any structural Board of Election Reform. The New York Senate passed bills that would require training of commissioners, standardize training of inspectors, making commissioners full time, setting minimum full time employee size for Boards of Elections, allow for removal of Commissioners for cause by the State Board of Elections, banning the use of hybrid voting machines, and increasing pay of inspectors. None of those bills got a vote in the assembly, and many not even got out of committee.
Since this is the end of session any bills that did not pass this year will have to be re-introduced next session. If there are any pieces of legislation you want passed contact your state representatives to re-introduce them next session.