2023 NYS Elections Commissioner Association Democratic Caucus Legislative Priorities

(At last week’s NYSECA conference the NYSECA Legislative committee propsed a legislative package that was supported by both caucuses and with near unanimous support of the entire association. The Democratic Caucus of Commissioners have adopted all of these bi-partisan recemondations and hacve a few more we are making as a caucus in addition. Below is our official list of 2023 legislative priorities. This will be updated with bill numbers should they become available.)

Give Boards of Elections the ability to properly serve the voters of New York.

To meet the needs of our modern political calendar we propose the following reforms to Board of Election Offices to be passed as a singular package by the NYS Legislature:

  • Four-year terms for all boards of elections commissioners beginning the year after the gubernatorial election. (Bi-partisan support).
  • Minimum staffing requirements set by the State Board of Elections for full time permanent employees for each Board of Election. (Bi-partisan support). (S644/A1258)
  • Require all Commissioners in New York outside of the City of New York to be full time commissioners with salaries set based on a metric of County department heads within the host county, to be determined by the State Board of Elections (Bi-partisan support). (S611/A919)

Since 2019, long awaited election reform has changed local Boards of Elections responsibilities without making the structural changes necessary for each county board to meet the needs of their voters.  Making these changes will allow County Commissioners the ability to strategically plan and bring year-round full-time management to the Board of Elections in every county.  In addition, each county will have the sufficient staffing needed to keep up with the increased voter registration and canvassing requirements they have been assigned under New York State Election Law.  All of these priorities have bi-partisan and near unanimous support amongst Election Commissioners.

Invest in our election system by providing the following funding streams in the New York State Budget.

  • Capital funding for replacement of aging voting equipment. Allow for reimbursement for any county that has replaced their voting fleet since January 2019. (Bi-partisan support).
  • Dedicated funding for voter outreach and media campaigns. (Bi-partisan support)
  • Properly fund the New York State Board of Elections and give the NYSBOE proper authority to promulgate regulations and enforce responsibilities outlined in state law. (Bi-partisan support)

County Board of Elections are desperate for dedicated funding to meet the technological needs required of the modern electoral landscape.  New precinct scanners, on-demand ballot printers, and electronic poll books have stretched the capital budgets of counties across New York.  We need dedicated funding to replace aging voting equipment annually.  We also need dedicated funding for media outreach and public education campaigns to inform the voters of all the changes in election law so they can properly cast their ballots.  Finally, it is essential that New York State properly and adequately fund the New York State Board of Elections.  They provide guidance to all County Board of Elections and must have the resources necessary to fulfill their ongoing responsibilities and provide oversight.

Provide flexibility for County Board of Election operations.

•             Allow for flexibility for designating non-enrolled inspectors to serve as Republican or Democratic inspectors. (Bi-partisan support)

Inspector recruitment in urban and rural areas is becoming problematic.  Adhering strictly to the partisan election inspectors is becoming unfeasible.  Allowing Boards of Elections to open some spots to non-enrolled or third-party voters may help ease the burden in hard to recruit areas.  Polling places should still be required to have at least 1 member of both major parties, but flexibility in staffing will allow for Boards to operate seamlessly throughout Early Voting and Election Day.

•             Grant county Election Commissioners independence and flexibility with respect to determining hours of operation. (Bi-partisan support)

Boards of Elections are unique entities.  They need flexibility to determine their own hours of operation to accommodate weekend and Early Voting as well as staying open on election deadlines.

Reform election law to provide clarity to better serve the election process.

Alter the Automatic hand recount in the following ways.

•             Reduce the threshold for triggering recounts in close elections to .25% and allow for alternative scan within the .25-50% range, while also reducing the minimum vote threshold to 10. (Bi-partisan support) S1014/A1259

•             Mandate the hand recount start after the final absentee canvass per regulations from the NYS Board of Elections. (Bi-partisan support)

•             Exempt all party position contests from the manual hand count. (Bi-partisan support)

The automatic hand-count has been in place for several election cycles.  We have learned that the precinct scanners are accurate.  Lowering the threshold for the hand-count will allow Board of Elections to only focus on the truly close races that have a chance of changing hands.  We must also stipulate that the hand-count should only start after initial certification allowing boards to properly prepare and sort ballots for counting.  Finally, we should exempt party positions from the hand count rule as these elections are routinely close but not close enough to switch winners and draw resources away from publicly held offices.

•             All cures should have a final received by date to allow for proper certification of our election on the last day of certification. (Bi-partisan support)

Absentee cures and the current timelines often can stretch beyond the certification date for the election.  To allow for proper certification and hand counting of close races we should have a final date for a cure to be received by the certification day for the election.

•             NY State should participate in cross state matching programs to keep our voter rolls accurate.

Accuracy of our voter rolls is paramount for running a successful election.  New York should participate in ERIC or another cross-state matching program so we can inactivate voters who have registered to vote in another state. 

•             Altering the highest municipality early voting law to lower the highest city threshold to at least 10,000 voters. (Bi-partisan support)

The alteration of the Early Voting statute to mandate an EV center in the highest City rather than municipality inside a county has created unforeseen issues.  Many counties have very small, incorporated cities that would mandate Early Voting centers away from more populous municipalities. Enacting a minimum voter threshold for a city will accomplish the goals of the legislature to make sure Urban areas have access to Early Voting while allowing counties with small cities to ensure more of their citizens get access to Early voting.

•             Encourage legislation denoting that all public offices within the state of New York be referred to in gender neutral terms on Primary and General election ballots. (Bi-partisan support)

In our modern world there is no need to still assign gender to political office.  This causes confusion when creating ballots, often having to place candidates in gender labelled positions that they do not identify with. Making all offices gender neutral will allow Boards of Elections make uniform ballots throughout all public offices.

Give Voters the resources they need to properly register and cast ballots.

Amend the New York State constitution by:

•             Restarting the Constitutional amendment on No Fault Absentees.

•             Restarting the constitutional amendment on Same day registration

Increasing the ability of voters to cast ballots by mail is an important priority.  Likewise, the ability to register to vote should be as flexible.  35 states and Washington DC have no-fault absentee voting.  22 states and Washington DC have same Day registration.  New York should start the years long process to amend our constitution to give voters a chance to choose these options in a high turnout election year.

•             Authorize the issuing of same-day absentee ballots in those instances when commissioners agree that health-related exigencies on or immediately prior to Election Day create hardship. (Bi-partisan support)

Late emerging circumstances are a reality of our election process.  Currently on Election Day infirmed individuals have no explicit process to receive an absentee.  Giving commissioners the ability to approve Election Day absentee requests will allow those who have late unavoidable circumstances to still cast a ballot.

•             Designation Election Day as a non-attendance day for public school students. (Bi-partisan support)

It is harder to secure polling places with private institutions such as churches and businesses increasingly resistant to open doors.  In many communities the only HAVA compliant buildings with proper parking are schools.  Mandating a non-student attendance day on Election Day will balance the needs of protecting students while making these buildings available for the voting public.

•             Allow for Vote Centers on Election Day as well as Early Voting on a permissive basis. (Bi-partisan support)

With the adoption of on-demand ballot printers and electronic polling books we have the tools to take the next logical step in our Election Day experience.  We already allow voters to travel to the most convenient Early Voting center, we should allow, as a permissive reform, Boards of Elections to allow Vote Centers on Election Day. 

(Bi-partisan support) Indicates a common goal with the NYS Elections Commissioner Association overall Legislative Agenda as Approved  by bi-partisan Elections Commissioners in January 2023.

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