By Bill Parry
Several Queens lawmakers are resuming efforts towards voter reform in Albany with a package of bills that would improve turnout at the polls in New York where it is among the lowest in the country. Less than 22 percent of the city’s 5 million registered voters went to the polls in November.
Last week, state Sen. Michael Gianaris (D-Astoria) announced a renewed push for two of his bills aimed at improving New Yorker’s access to the ballot box, including his Voter Empowerment Act, which would streamline voter registration systems, and a Constitutional Amendment to eliminate the 10-day advance registration requirement.
“At a time in our country when voting rights are under assault from all corners, New York must live up to its reputation as a progressive leader,” Gianaris said. “Access to the ballot box should be easy and fair. I urge my colleagues to enact these proposals as soon as possible to remove obstacles to voting.”
The Voter Empowerment Act would ensure every eligible citizen is on the voter rolls; reduce unfair deadlines for voter registration and party enrollment; permit the pre-registration of 16 and 17-year-olds; and transfer the registration of eligible citizens over the Internet.
The Constitutional Amendment would eliminate the 10-day voter registration requirement. Once adopted, the Legislature could allow for same-day registration.
State Sen. Joseph Addabbo (D-Howard Beach) is co-sponsoring four of the proposals in the package of bills. One would change the layout of ballots to make them easier to read and understand, another would establish “no fault” absentee balloting by enabling any voter to request and cast a ballot by mail without declaring any reason for doing so. A third bill which would save taxpayer money spent on organizing and holding elections, would require state primary elections and federal primary elections to be held on the same day. In addition he is also co-sponsoring the Voter Empowerment Act.
“Expanding and protecting voter rights here in New York is paramount in making the process easier and more accessible for a larger number of voters,” Addabbo said. “Having one of the lowest voter participation rates in the nation does not reflect well on our state. Voting is the cornerstone of our democracy, and if we want to continue to have a strong democracy, we need to enact sensible measures to allow and encourage more voters to get to the ballot box.”
Additional election and voting reform bills in the legislative package that Addabbo is supporting seek to establish an early voting system, create a crime of voter suppression, and implement uniform poll closing procedures to ensure integrity in the process.
“It’s no secret that we have great challenges ahead in restoring public trust in our electoral system and in our government itself,” Addabbo said. “We obviously require reasonable safeguards to ensure the integrity and veracity of our election process and results. However, it is equally clear that we need to remove unnecessarily burdensome obstacles that cause people to jump through hoops to participate in their democracy and that ultimately discourage people from even bothering to vote.”
State Sen. Leroy Comrie (D-St. Albans) introduced a measure that would reduce restrictions on affidavit ballots which are given to voters whose registration cannot be verified at the poll site on Election Day. In order to receive an affidavit ballot, voters — swearing under penalty of perjury — must complete an affidavit that includes the address at which they were previously registered to vote regardless of how long ago it may have been.
“No voter should ever face unnecessary scrutiny at the polls because of errors that are outside their control,” Comrie said. “The requirement that voters disclose the address at which they were previously registered is onerous and unnecessary, especially for seniors in my district, many of whom have lived in the same home for 30, 40, or 50 years.”
Reach reporter Bill Parry by e-mail at bparr