New York lawmakers approve election reforms, including early voting

Among the changes: State and federal primaries are now required to be held on the same day.
Voters stand in line to cast their ballots on Nov. 6, 2018, in Brooklyn, New York.
Voters stand in line to cast their ballots on Nov. 6, 2018, in Brooklyn, New York.Mark Lennihan / AP file

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By Jane C. Timm

New York state lawmakers approved a series of reforms intended to make it easier to vote on Monday, including giving voters 10 days of early access to the ballot box prior to Election Day and consolidating primary dates.

The reforms were passed by the new Democratic majority in the state Senate. Similar reforms have died in the legislature in recent years, thanks to Republican control in the Senate. The bills are expected to be signed into law by Gov. Andrew Cuomo, who commended the legislature for taking "quick action" on the issue, soon.

"At a time when the federal government is doing everything it can to disenfranchise voters, we are taking action to make it easier for New Yorkers to participate in the democratic process and crack down on corporate influences in our election," Cuomo said in a statement on Monday.

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The election reforms require officials to establish 10 days of early voting that wraps up two days before the election and includes two full weekends. Officials must also automatically update people's voter registrations when they move. Both changes will be rolled out in 2019.

Starting in 2020, young people will be permitted to preregister to vote when they are 16 and 17. Once implemented, a person's voter registration will be marked as pending until their 18th birthday, at which point they will be able to vote.

Additionally, state and federal primaries are now required to be scheduled on the same day, ameliorating a practice that cost the state millions, confused voters, and likely depressed turnout.

Last year, New York was the only state in the country to hold federal and state primaries on different days, and it was one of just 12 states without early voting. In November 2018, Election Day saw long lines and technology problems, particularly in New York City.

The election reforms are significant for a state that's long been dogged by low voter turnout and lagged behind on access to the ballot box.

Legislators on Monday also took steps toward implementing same-day voter registration and absentee voting without an excuse, but completing those reform will take years more.

Hillary Clinton, a former U.S. senator from New York and the 2016 Democratic nominee for president, applauded the measures in a tweet on Tuesday.

"They're great first steps to fixing our Democracy," she said. "Congratulations to all, and let's keep going!"