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OpinionEditorial

Time to get voting rights right in NYS

Blue wave has led to the best chance yet to reform state’s archaic election laws.

The NY State Capitol Building and reflection in

The NY State Capitol Building and reflection in the pond at the Empire State Plaza in downtown Albany. Photo Credit: Getty Images

Time to make more history in Albany.

The legislative session that opened Wednesday was the first with a woman at the helm of one of New York’s two legislative bodies. Democrat Andrea Stewart-Cousins became majority leader of the State Senate, after November’s blue wave gave the party control of all three levers of government.

All pieces are in place to move forward a raft of long overdue legislation. No more excuses, finger-pointing, or one-house bills that die. Gov. Andrew M. Cuomo’s budget address Tuesday is likely to feature the legalization of recreational marijuana and sports gambling, and outline the always-controversial mechanism of school funding. These complicated topics require time and deliberation to get right.

One issue can be handled much more quickly. It would engage more citizens and voices in our process of governing — and also would make history by bringing New York into the modern era: Voting reform.

New York is one of the most backward states in the nation when it comes to voting laws. Year in, year out, its turnout is among America’s worst. Partly, that’s due to laws that make it harder to vote.

Among other states:

  • 34 offer early voting in person. Not New York.
  • 27 let anyone file an absentee ballot. Not New York.
  • 15 have automatic voter registration. Not New York.
  • 49 held their state and federal primaries on the same day last year. Yup, New York was the only holdout.

Republicans and Conservatives, who preferred to suppress the vote rather than craft an agenda that would appeal to more voters, can no longer block progress. Now New York can join other states that make executing our civic duty easier. As both chambers tackle a slate of voting reforms on Monday, here are our recommendations:

Early voting: Polls should open a limited amount of time, including at least one weekend, before Election Day to give voters more chances to cast ballots.

Automatic voter registration: This would occur when someone has business before one of several state agencies.

No-fault absentee balloting: Anyone should be able to vote by absentee ballot without declaring a reason.

Consolidate primaries: Holding state and federal primaries months apart confuses voters and depresses turnout. Moving state primaries to June to coincide with primaries for members of Congress is a no-brainer.

Voter preregistration — New York should join the 22 states that specifically allow some form of preregistration for 16- and 17-year-olds.

Party enrollment changes: A Senate bill would let voters change party registration up to 25 days before an election, remedying a long-standing problem of voters discovering far too late that they are not eligible to vote in a primary.

Other election reforms include closing the loophole that allows secretive limited liability companies to make big campaign donations and banning corporate campaign contributions. Also, take a hard look at public campaign financing.

New Yorkers have waited too long for these sensible changes that would put real power back in the hands of the citizenry, not the political bosses. Passing these reforms now as the session begins would set a promising tone for this auspicious year.

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