After two voting ballot measures tanked at the polls in November, stunned Democratic lawmakers quickly began to regroup to ensure New York voters didn’t see their rights rolled back as a result.
The two amendments would have changed the state constitution to allow for same-day voter registration and vote by mail through a no-excuse absentee ballot system. Both measures failed by just over 50 percent, thanks in part to a well-funded campaign by New York State Republican and Conservative parties that was met with no coordinated response.
In lieu of permanent constitutional changes, lawmakers plan to introduce legislation to temporarily extend current absentee ballot access. They are also eyeing ways to move the voter registration deadline closer to an election.
“I want to make sure that at least for the foreseeable future, we can continue to allow people to vote by mail,” said Assemblymember Jeffrey Dinowitz, citing ongoing concerns over COVID-19. He has introduced a bill that mirrors one he co-sponsored last year that allowed voters to request an absentee ballot based on concerns related to the ongoing pandemic.
The use of absentee ballots has spiked dramatically since the start of the pandemic when lawmakers enacted emergency provisions to allow more voters to access them. Of the state’s nearly 12 million voters, nearly 40 percent submitted absentee ballots in the June 2020 primaries, compared to just 4 percent in recent previous elections.
The law can not be made permanent without changing the constitution, but that process stretches a minimum of three years. It requires a proposal to be adopted by the legislature in two consecutive sessions before going on the ballot before voters.
The current absentee ballot measure expires at the start of 2022; the new legislation extends it through February 1st, 2024.
Another change lawmakers are considering would be to move the voter registration deadline from the current requirement, which is 25 days before an election, to just 10 days as currently permitted under the state constitution.
Leaders of both the New York Assembly and Senate Elections Committee have expressed support publicly for this change.
“We will definitely be moving to go closer to that 10-day registration period,” said Assemblymember Latrice Walker, the Assembly Election Law Committee chair, at a recent panel on New York State Election Law held by the New York City Bar Association. That sentiment was echoed by state Senator Zellnor Myrie who chairs the state Senate Elections Committee.
Both lawmakers are expected to support a fuller list of election law changes in the upcoming session.
When speaking directly about the failure of the ballot measures, Walker offered an optimistic take on the work ahead: “It really just invigorated our fight to make sure we go and get done what New Yorkers deserve.”