New York passes voting reform

The state Senate has passed a package of bills aimed at improving access to voting. Brant Sanderlin/Atlanta Journal-Constitution/TNS

ALBANY — The state Senate Democratic majority proposed and passed a package of voting reform bills during the Senate’s first day of session.

The package of nine bills includes establishing automatic voter registration, requiring polling locations on college and university campuses, and ensuring at least one early-voting location in each county.

“As elected officials, we should not fear making it easier for eligible voters to vote. We should welcome it,” Majority Leader Andrea Stewart-Cousins, D-Yonkers, said at a press conference Thursday. “Easing access to voting provides the encouragement New Yorkers need to move forward.”

The passage of these bills comes a year after the Senate Democratic Majority passed its first round of voting reforms, including the establishment of early voting and allowing for same-day voter registration.

At the press conference, legislators said the new package is an essential expansion and improvement of the work they accomplished last year.

“A lot of folks have said Albany is dysfunctional, but to me this is a perfect example of what a functional government should look like,” said Sen. Zellnor Myrie, D-Brooklyn. “This is going to put us at the forefront of involving as many people in our democracy as possible.”

Included in the package is a bill sponsored by Deputy Majority Leader Michael Gianaris, D-Queens, that would automatically register people to vote as they interact with the Department of Motor Vehicles or Department of Health. According to the bill, these agencies would electronically send information about eligible voters to the Board of Elections for automatic voter registration.

While introducing his bill, Gianaris said there are between 1 million and 2 million eligible voters in New York who are not registered to vote.

“This will go a long way towards taking New York from worst to first in terms of voter participation,” Gianaris said.

During the floor debate, Sen. Robert Ortt, R-North Tonawanda, raised concerns over whether automatic voter registration at the DMV would pave the way for undocumented immigrants to register to vote, as a new law that allows undocumented immigrants to obtain driver’s licenses — known as the Green Light Law — is in the first month of its rollout.

Gianaris said the DMV has identification requirements that confirm whether someone is a citizen, so fraudulent voter registration would not be an issue.

The bill passed on the Senate floor 40-20.

The package also included legislation that would require college and university campuses to have polling locations if the school has at least 300 registered voters. The bill passed on the Senate floor with a 40-20 vote.

Multiple bills that ensure a sufficient number of early voting locations were also passed last week.

“The goal is fair, secure elections,” said Susan Learner, executive director of Common Cause New York. “The legislature is working with advocates, with grassroots activists across the state to be sure that barriers to voting are removed.”

Massarah Mikati covers the New York State Legislature and immigration for Johnson Newspaper Corp. Email her at, or find her on Twitter @massarahmikati.

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