New York, NY - February 8, 2017 - Backed by the state’s leading good government groups and elected officials, Attorney General Eric T. Schneiderman today introduced the New York Votes Act, a comprehensive reform package aimed at simplifying the voting process, boosting voter registration, and increasing voter turnout. The New York Votes Act will be sponsored by the Chairman of the Election Law Committee, Assemblyman Michael Cusick (D-Staten Island).
The New York Votes Act will dramatically update the state’s voting systems by adding early voting, automatic and same-day voter registration, consolidated primaries, shortened party registration deadlines, and more.
“Any law that makes it easier to vote is a good law; any law that makes it harder to vote is a bad law,” said Attorney General Schneiderman. “New York has long been a bastion of democracy, but our state’s current system of registration and voting is an affront to that legacy. The New York Votes Act will help our state become a national leader in protecting and expanding voting rights for New Yorkers.”
“As Chairman of the Election Law Committee, I am pleased to be working with Attorney General Schneiderman on the New York Votes Act,” said Assemblyman Michael Cusick. “This legislation, aimed to simplify the voting process and improve voter accessibility, will give citizens a better opportunity to participate in the democratic process by increasing voter participation across New York State.”
Many of the provisions in New York Votes Act arise directly from the findings of the Attorney General’s December 2016 report on the problems that voters faced during the 2016 presidential primary and general elections. The inquiry, which was undertaken in response to record voter complaints during the April primary election, found that voters encountered barriers to access erected by New York’s restrictive voting laws, rules and procedures, as well as by the practices and administrative errors of state agencies and the Boards of Election.
Read the full New York Votes Act here. Key provisions of the bill include:
Automatic Registration of Eligible Voters
- Any designated state or local agency that collects information from a person who has formal contact with that agency as part of an application for services, change of address or other similar process would be required to automatically electronically transmit identifying information for that person (e.g., name, address, date of birth, driver’s license number) to the New York State Board of Elections (“NYS BOE”). Upon receiving this information, NYS BOE would then electronically forward it to the appropriate local Board of Elections (“BOE”) for verification and processing as a voter registration application. Individuals would have the absolute right to opt out of the automatic registration process by simply checking an “opt out” box on the designated agency’s electronic or paper form.
Same-Day Registration For New Voters
- Amend New York State Election Law to permit a qualified person who is not registered to vote in the state to appear personally at the appropriate polling place on the day of any primary, general or special election, register to vote, and simultaneously cast his or her ballot. Once the registration is processed and vetted by the BOE, the voter’s ballot would be counted, and the voter would be added to the voting rolls.
Online Personal Voter Registration and Absentee Ballot Applications
- Allow electronic personal voter registration, and online applications for absentee ballots, so that any qualified registrant can complete the entire voter registration or absentee ballot application process online via a desktop computer or handheld device.
Create a System of “Permanent” Voter Registration
- Implement a system of “permanent” voter registration in the state by requiring BOEs to maintain and update the registration of any consenting voter who moves within the state and submits a change of address to the BOE or to any designated state or local agency.
Allow Registered Voters to Change Their Party Enrollment Closer to Primary Day
- Allow already-registered voters to change their party affiliation up to 120 days prior to any primary election.
Adopt a System of Early Voting
- Permit a registered voter to vote at the local BOE in the same county where the voter is registered, or at one or more other designated polling places, seven days per week starting two weeks before an election.
Provide for "No Excuse" Absentee Voting
- Repeal, in its entirety, the current requirement that absentee ballots can only be obtained and cast by otherwise qualified voters if they meet one of several statutorily-enumerated justifications for obtaining such ballots (e.g., unable to vote at the polls due to illness or physical disability). The bill also would allow online submission of applications for absentee ballots.
Ensure Uniformity of Poll Site Hours Across the State
- Require poll sites statewide to open at 6:00 a.m. and close at 9:00 p.m. during all primary elections. Under existing law, except for NYC and seven other counties, polling places do not open until noon on primary days.
Consolidate Federal, State and Local Primaries on Single Day
- Hold all statewide primary elections on one day in late June.
Enact Disaster Preparedness Protections
- Clarify and facilitate decision-making by BOEs during an emergency as well as communication to voters and participants of a caucus when time is of the essence to protect voters' safety and enable them to vote when the emergency event is over.
Enhance Access to the Ballot
Increase Language Access
- Whenever any local BOE finds that 3% of the voting-age residents of an election district have Limited English Proficiency, according to the U.S. Census Bureau, it shall provide ballots as well as registration or voting notices, forms, instructions, assistance, and other materials or information relating to the electoral process in the primary language of the population in question, in a manner that provides the same opportunity for access and participation as voters whose primary language is English.
Protect Voters from Improper Challenges
- Require a good faith basis and supporting documentation for persons, other than election officials, who challenge voter eligibility on Election Day, as well as penalties for those who abuse this provision of the law.
Restore Voting Rights for Citizens on Parole
- Restore voting rights to persons on parole or post-release supervision following a felony conviction. Restoration would not be contingent upon payment of fees, fines, restitution, or other legal financial obligations
Enhance Poll Worker Training and Recruitment
- Require election commissioners and BOE employees to complete mandatory training within six months of appointment, and continuing education annually, with the curriculum to be established by the NYS BOE; and require NYS BOE to establish and host an Education and Training Institute to develop a curriculum for certified poll worker training and train-the-trainer programs. Reimbursement to Localities
Reimburse Localities For Extra Costs
- Require the state to reimburse localities for any additional costs associated with the implementation of early voting, enhanced language access and expanded primary election voting hours as required by the bill.
“Voting ease and accessibility is critical to our democracy. Unfortunately, in New York State, we fall behind half the country because of our outdated practices. Attorney General Schneiderman's New York Votes Act will help bring New York up to speed and ensure New Yorkers statewide aren't turned away from casting their ballots as a result of senseless roadblocks. In order to have the democracy we seek nationwide, we must lead by example and create a fairer system here in New York,” said Mayor Bill de Blasio.
"Fair and well participated in elections are an essential part of our democracy. The Independent Democratic Conference has long been an advocate for making our election process simpler and more accessible for all New Yorkers. I commend Attorney General Schneiderman for proposing this comprehensive legislation that will improve and protect the election process in New York," said Senator Jeff Klein.
“New York State ranks abysmally low on voter turnout, and that is the direct result of generations of red tape, voter disenfranchisement, and antiquated registration systems,” said Senate Democratic Leader Andrea Stewart-Cousins. “The Senate Democrats unveiled a series of bills to help address this problem, and we thank Attorney General Schneiderman for his dedication on this issue. Our democracy requires active participation from all citizens and together with Attorney General Schneiderman, we will keep up the fight to achieve that goal.”
“New York's voting laws are a relic of the last century,” said State Senator Daniel Squadron. “At a time when Americans are concerned about the strength and future of our republic, New York should be leading the charge to ensure New Yorkers can exercise their voting rights. I was proud to stand with the Democratic Conference earlier this week as we unveiled an important voting reform package, and thank Attorney General Schneiderman for introducing this important reform proposal.”
“The right to vote is one of the most fundamental freedoms belonging to every American,” said State Senator Liz Krueger. “But years of neglect and outright attacks have left our voting system in disarray and voters’ rights far from secure. Urgent and smart reforms are needed, and I thank Attorney General Schneiderman and his team for their contributions to this effort. New Yorkers deserve free, fair, and accessible elections – anything less is simply un-American.”
State Senator Brad Hoylman said: “Attorney General Schneiderman’s inquiry into voter complaints filed during the 2016 election confirms that our state’s byzantine and cumbersome electoral system, whether by design or by accident, has disenfranchised thousands of New Yorkers. As people take to the streets to protest the Trump Administration, we cannot continue to criticize federal efforts to undermine basic constitutional rights while ignoring inequities in our own backyard. I’m grateful to the Attorney General for this important investigation and look forward to working with him and my colleagues in Albany to enact reforms that will break down these unfair barriers and help expand the franchise to each and every voter.”
“For quite some time there have been serious flaws in the New York State voting process. In 2016, however, many New Yorkers who were unaware of such flaws felt them first hand. As a State we have to do better to improve New Yorkers’ access to their most basic rights. Voting is a right in this country, not another way to divide the haves and have-nots. Protecting and expanding voting rights in New York is a must if we want to continue to be the standard-bearers for progress across the world," said Senator Tony Avella.
“As the State Senator of a district with a high concentration of low-income and minority communities, and a troubling history of low voter turnout, I understand the critical importance of reforming our State's electoral system,” said State Senator Gustavo Rivera. “I applaud the efforts of Attorney General Schneiderman for not only releasing a comprehensive report examining the exorbitant number of voter complaints during last year's election cycle, but more importantly for proposing a series of common sense measures which mirror the set of proposals put forth by the Senate Democratic Conference earlier this week that will improve voter participation. Too many of our fellow citizens have perished defending our right to cast a ballot and we must continue to protect this inalienable right from any attempts at curtailing it.”
“There is no more important right for our democracy than the right to vote, and unfortunately New York State has lagged behind many other states in instituting commonsense voting reforms. When states make it difficult to vote, the burden falls strongly on low-income communities and people of color. I applaud the Attorney General's drive to address this unacceptable situation, and I look forward to supporting his efforts toward reform in Albany,” said State Senator Marisol Alcantara (31st District).
State Senator Jose Peralta (D-Queens), noted, “Voting is the very backbone of our democracy, and unmerited attacks against our system constitute a threat to all of us. I will vote in favor of democracy always, and I will vote and work tirelessly until New Yorkers have easier access to voting. I have always been an unequivocal supporter of progressive election law reform, and my record proves just that. Currently, there are simple technologies that exist to allow for commonsense measures such as same day voter registration, automatic voter registration, online voter registration, and early voting. Reforming election laws is crucial in guaranteeing that all the pieces of our democratic process work, and work equally for all. Voting complaints are to be taken very seriously. I applaud Attorney General Schneiderman for his efforts and his leadership on voting protections and voting reforms. I will do anything possible to ensure these proposals become a reality. ”
“I’ve been working to reform New York’s antiquated voting system for years,” said Assistant Assembly Speaker Felix W. Ortiz. “While we often hear of discriminatory voting laws in other states, let’s remember that New York’s laws have been on the books for decades. It’s time to bring our state into the 21st century and adopt the proposals being announced today.”
“Voting rights are the foundation upon which we build our democracy,” said Assemblyman David Buchwald, Chairman of the Assembly Subcommittee on Election Day Operations and Voter Disenfranchisement. “I thank Attorney General Schneiderman for putting forward a bold set of election law reforms. I will gladly work with my colleagues in government to improve our voting system.”
“As a long-time supporter of election reform and as a member of the New York State Assembly election law committee, I am pleased that Attorney General Schneiderman is supporting many reforms that will increase involvement in the political process and increased voter turnout,” said Assemblyman Jeffrey Dinowitz. “We should not be setting up barriers that prevent people from exercising their right to vote. Given the current state of affairs in our country it is more important than ever that our citizenry be actively engaged in the voting process and it is crucial that we do everything we can to encourage rather than discourage people from voting.”
"Early voting increases citizen involvement and turnout in elections,” said Assemblymember Peoples-Stokes.“Exercising the right to vote should not be burdensome for New Yorkers. The New York Votes Act, will transform our voting process by introducing early voting for New Yorkers and same-day voter registration. Over the years, Election Day has created a challenge for many voters at the polls ranging from long lines, wrong polling sites and/or faulty machines. I applaud Attorney General Schneiderman in supporting New York State’s early voting initiative. I look forward to the New York Votes Act bringing New York State’s voting process into the 21st century and keeping pace with the rest of the country.”
“As false rumors of vote fraud gain prominence in the national discourse, New Yorkers know that we need to make voting easier, not harder,” said Assemblymember Dan Quart. “I'm proud that our state's Attorney General has committed to making the voting process more fair. New York is stronger when every citizen has an equal voice, and reforming the voting process will bring us closer to that reality.”
“We need to better protect the right of everyday citizens to participate in their government through nominating candidates and voting,” said Assemblyman Thomas J. Abinanti.
“One of our most basic obligations as elected officials is to ensure that New Yorkers have a full and fair opportunity to exercise their right to vote,” said Assemblymember Brian Kavanagh. “That's why the Assembly Majority has been working diligently to enact common sense reforms, like early voting, unrestricted absentee voting, and a voter registration system that allows eligible voters to enroll and stay enrolled easily and reliably. I thank Attorney General Schneiderman for his leadership in calling for these and many other reforms today and for the thoughtful and comprehensive report that he and his staff released in December, which strengthened our understanding of the challenges voters face and the solutions available to address them.”
“I applaud Attorney General Schneiderman’s efforts to highlight and address grave deficiencies in New York State’s antiquated voting laws,” said Assemblymember Linda B. Rosenthal (D/WF). “This past election, my constituents flooded my office with calls and emails to report numerous problems at the polls, including not being allowed to vote despite having been registered for decades; inability to obtain absentee ballots; not receiving absentee ballots in a timely manner; repeated reassignment of polling place; and much more. As Donald Trump continues his crusade to curtail the rights of voters across the country, it is imperative that the State step up to ensure all New Yorkers have the easiest possible path to voting."
“I support Attorney General Eric Schneiderman's leadership in addressing our flawed voting system in New York State,” said Assemblymember Shelley Mayer. “We have one of the lowest voting rates in the country, and this is partly due to the archaic way we allow our citizens to register to vote and our outdated rules and regulations that govern voting. As legislators and leaders, it is our duty to promote policies which increase civic engagement and participation. The 2017 New York Votes Act lays out a comprehensive list of changes to address the issues that have inhibited voter turnout in New York, and I look forward to working with my colleagues to enact these changes.”
“Voting rights are a central part of reform. It's hard for regular people to vote in New York,” said Assemblymember Robert Carroll. “It's hard to register, hard to change party enrollment. It's hard because the laws make it that way. Voting isn't supposed to be hard. And running for office is even harder. It's complicated, time consuming, expensive. It doesn't have to be that way. We want to encourage people to run for office, to get involved. When regular people can't run for office, we end up with a government of powerful insiders. These voting reforms help return the power to the people. I am proud to work with Attorney General Schneiderman on this issue.”
“Access to the ballot box is an indispensable hallmark of our democracy,” said NYC Council Member Rafael Espinal. “I was alarmed this past primary election when over 100,000 voters in Brooklyn were purged from the voting rolls and thousands others could not vote because of cumbersome deadlines to change party registration. Now, more than ever, with the ongoing national assault on voting rights, and so many threats to our liberties, New York must act decisively to encourage voting, rather than make it difficult for citizens to carry out their constitutional right. I applaud Attorney General Schneiderman for his steadfast efforts to expand voting protections and reforms throughout our state.”
“At a time when unsubstantiated voter fraud claims are falsely being spread around, we need more leaders talking about the real problem: voter suppression,” said Council Member Donovan Richards. “This package of reforms will put New York State on the right side of the conversation by improving voter registration accessibility and will surely lead to an increase in voter turnout. I'd like to thank Attorney General Schneiderman for identifying the flaws in our system and working to find realistic, attainable solutions.”
“New York State should be a national role model for voter access and voting rights, with same-day registration, early voting, and no-excuse absentee voting,” said NYC Council Member Ben Kallos, chair of the Committee on Governmental Operations. “I applaud Attorney General Schneiderman's efforts to get these voting reforms passed, and in the City Council we will continue to support that effort with resolutions calling on the state legislature to do the right thing.”
Onida Coward Mayers, director of voter assistance at the NYC Campaign Finance Board, said, “The false claims of voter fraud in last year’s elections are a distraction from an important truth: the best way to protect the integrity of our elections is to modernize our election system. Now is the moment for New York to restore faith in our elections by adopting commonsense reforms that make it easier for voters to register and participate.”
“The League of Women Voters of New York State applauds Attorney General Eric Schneiderman for this comprehensive voting reform package,” said Barbara Bartoletti, Legislative Director for the League of Women Voters of New York State. “New York State continues to rank near the bottom in terms of statewide voter turnout – especially for primary elections. Laws that would allow for automatic voter registration, early voting, no-excuse absentee voting, and consolidation of primary elections will empower voters and give greater access to the ballot. We urge the Governor and Legislature to act on these reforms as soon as possible to ensure future elections do not face the same barriers as the 2016 primary and general elections.”
“New York ranks consistently as one of the nation's worst in terms of voter participation, driven by state laws that create obstacles to voting,” said Megan Ahearn, NYPIRG Program Director. “Much of the rest of the nation has developed practices that improve voter turnout. The Attorney General's package relies on those best practices. NYPIRG applauds his sweeping response; one that modernizes state voting laws with an eye toward making participation easier, not harder.”
“Our outdated voting laws continue to suppress turnout among perfectly eligible New Yorkers. Harsh deadlines, negligent voter purges, and manual, paper-based registration are hurdles to participation matched only by New York's single election day. The findings in AG Schneiderman's voter access report compel Albany to prioritize--and adequately fund--a comprehensive overhaul of the way we vote,” said Jarret Berg, Executive Director of the New York Democratic Lawyers Council.
“With one of the lowest voter turnout rates in the country, New York needs to modernize its outdated elections systems so that more eligible New Yorkers can register and vote. Automatic voter registration stands to add millions more voters to New York’s rolls, and implementing it at agencies beyond the DMV would make our state a nationwide leader. Adding early voting days, including on weekends, would make it significantly more convenient to vote—for some people, it could make all the difference in whether they are able to cast a ballot at all,” said Chisun Lee, Senior Counsel for the Democracy Program at the Brennan Center for Justice. “The Brennan Center applauds the Attorney General for his leadership in calling on the State to bring its elections into the 21st century.”
“The problem with our nation’s electoral system is not that too many people are voting – it is that too few eligible people have access to the ballot box,” said Heather McGhee, president of Demos. “Government at all levels have a responsibility to ensure eligible voters of all races and backgrounds do not have to overcome unnecessary barriers to exercise our constitutional right to vote. Demos applauds Attorney General Schneiderman for taking ownership of that obligation by presenting clear reforms, including removing obstacles to registration and voting, expanding language access, restoring voting rights to parolees and addressing the legal loopholes that have previously enabled discrimination against voters of color. Demos remains committed to advocating for policies like this across the country, in order make it possible for all Americans to participate in our democracy and have their voices heard.”
The Office of the Attorney General (OAG) has a long history of protecting the right to vote for all New Yorkers. Last month, OAG intervened in a federal lawsuit against the New York City Board of Elections (“NYCBOE”), alleging that widespread policies and practices used by the NYCBOE to cancel voter registrations violate federal and state laws. Specifically, the lawsuit alleges that since 2014 the NYCBOE improperly purged over 200,000 voters’ registrations and, as a result, disenfranchised many voters during the 2016 Presidential Primary.
OAG has been a fierce defender of language access at the ballot box. Since 2012, the office has entered into agreements with eight counties aimed at ensuring that Spanish-speaking voters have equal access to the electoral process. The agreements specifically ensure that the local BOEs have Spanish-language voter registration forms, absentee ballot applications, affidavit applications, public notices, website information, polling place reassignment letters and the Election Day ballot itself. In addition, the Boards also agreed to recruit and identify sufficient numbers of Spanish-speaking poll workers and agreed to provide enhanced training for poll workers to ensure that quality language assistance is provided on Election Day.
OAG has also operated its Election Day Hotline since November 2012. The Hotline – reachable at 800-771-7755 -- has fielded hundreds of complaints from voters across the state and worked with local election officials and others to promptly address issues encountered by voters at the polls.
The Attorney General's Office is committed to the voting rights protecting all eligible New Yorkers. To file a civil rights complaint, contact the Attorney General’s Office at (212) 416-8250, email or visit www.ag.ny.gov.