The Weekly Wonk:  Annual Christmas Gifts to New York Voters

It seems to become tradition that New York waits to the end of the year to sign many voting related bills.  This is intentionally or not creating a tradition of Christmas gifts to New York Voters.  Last year on the eve of Christmas Governor Hochul expanded Early Voting and protected absentee voters with a series of bills that made the ballot box more accessible.  This year Governor Hochul and the New York State Legislature have teamed up to expand voter registration, protect affidavit ballots, make it easier to run for office, and protect against voter confusion in party names.  Here are the bills Governor Hochu signed recently:

S284C/A642 Wrong Church Affidavit Reform Bill

This bill changes the way New York Boards of Elections canvass Affidavit ballots.  Affidavit ballots are used when voters show up at a polling place and are not in the polling book.  This is mostly used for voters who move.  Previous law made it a fatal defect to show up at a wrong polling place then the one you are assigned to, or your address is assigned to, and cast an affidavit ballot.  Outside of not being registered at all, this is the number one reason used to throw out an affidavit ballot.  Thousands of ballots were disqualified each year because of this law.  This new law will allow the Boards of Elections to canvass these ballots as long as the voter shows up in the right Assembly district.  Often voters show up just down the block and have the same ballot style, however if a voter casts a vote for a race, they are not eligible for the Board of Election can discard that portion of the ballot while keeping the other votes.

Read the bill here: https://www.nysenate.gov/legislation/bills/2021/S284/amendment/C

S1851A/A1819 Prohibiting the use of Independent or Independence in party names

This bill will add “Independent” or “Independence” to the list of prohibited names of political partis in New York State.  For years New Yorkers had a third party called the “Independence Party”.  For years voters who thought they were enrolling as independent voters were tricked to enroll in this third party.  To make it worse the party lost all sense of ideology with no local representation anywhere in New York and often served as a cross endorsement line for incumbents.  After their removal from the ballot in 2020 many still sought to create independent party nominations for the “Independence Party”.  Adding this prohibited term will keep from confusing voters in registration and at the ballot box.

Read the bill here:  https://www.nysenate.gov/legislation/bills/2021/S1851/amendment/A

S4413/A4261 Requires notification of Specific objections to petitions and certifications

Currently some Board of elections do not require notification to parties that are having their petitions challenged by outside parties.  This makes it a uniform practice throughout New York State that all petitions or certificates of nominations that are subject to specific objections are notified either by the challenging party or the Board of Elections.  This will allow them to participate in the process.  More importantly it will give notification to the party to prepare for court proceedings in the case they are thrown off the ballot as they only have 72 hours from a ruling to do so.  Often many candidates were found they were thrown off the ballot without an opportunity to defend themselves and too late to seek legal remedies.  This will give due process to all candidates in all parts of New York State.

Read the bill here:  https://www.nysenate.gov/legislation/bills/2021/s4413

S2951A/A8858 Reduces Registration deadline to Constitutional minimum of 10 days

Currently by statute new voters have to register in New York 25 days before each general election or primary to be eligible to vote in that election.  Many studies show that new voters may not decide to vote till the weeks before an election.  This reduces the mail-in registration date to 15 days before the deadline and allows for in person registration up to the tenth day before the election.  While this is not the solution of Same-Day registration that many activists wanted it is the best legal option available.  In fact, the tenth day before the election is the first day of Early Voting, creating a version of same day registration and voting on this “Golden Day”.  This will have the biggest impact on voters and Boards of Elections going forward.  Rules and regulations will be promulgated by chapter amendments and the NYS Board of Elections so stay tuned.

Read the Bill Here:  https://www.nysenate.gov/legislation/bills/2021/S2951/amendment/A

Automatic and Online Voter Registration starts in 2023

In addition to the bills above 2023 is the year that Online and Automatic Voter registration is scheduled to come to New York.  The bill was signed in December 2020 by Governor Cuomo however the pandemic continued to delay implementation of parts of this reform.  The Department of Motor Vehicles is scheduled to start automatically registering voters next year and Board of Elections will have a direct online voter registration option sometime this year.  Then in 2024 other agencies will be brought into the Automatic Voter Registration portal in time for the 2024 election.  Stay tuned for more information as 2023 progresses.

In 2023 the Covid-19 excuse for absentee voting comes to an end.  It is unclear whether that will be continued or allowed to expire.  There still remains a constitutional challenge to the absentee reforms that were passed last year which may prompt more legislation on that this session.  As always, I will endeavor to bring you that news as it happens. 

(Note:  The hand count in SD50 has put me behind schedule in analyzing Onondaga County performance in the 2022 General Election.  I will do that in the early part of January 2023)

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