Senate Majority to Build On Election Reforms and Further Empower New York Voters
(Albany, NY) The Senate Majority will advance major legislation to improve New York State’s electoral system and empower voters. This action continues the Senate Democratic Majority’s tradition of kicking off Session by passing major pro-voter, anti-disenfranchisement, pro-democracy legislation. The bills that will be passed by the Senate Majority build on the historic reforms passed during the 2019 and 2020 Legislative Session. The legislative package that will be advanced by the Senate Majority includes greater access to using absentee ballots and ensuring they are counted, no-excuse absentee voting, and an absentee ballot tracking system.
“Elections matter, voting matters, and leadership matters. We have seen how fundamental change can be achieved when people exercise their Constitutional right to vote,” Senate Majority Leader Andrea Stewart-Cousins said. “The Senate Democratic Majority has started the past two Legislative Sessions with legislative packages to empower New Yorkers and reduce barriers to voting. The bills advanced by the Senate Majority continue those efforts and will help reform and modernize our electoral system. I applaud the bill sponsors for their leadership on this foundational issue, and thank my colleagues for advancing these bills and standing up for New York voters.”
Deputy Majority Leader Senator Michael Gianaris and bill sponsor said, “As our Democratic supermajority continues to reform the way elections are run, fixing our latest-in-the-nation vote counting status will go a long way towards restoring faith in election results. I am proud to have authored this important legislation so we are never again still counting votes into the new year.”
Senate Elections Committee Chair and bill sponsor Senator Zellnor Myrie said, “For the third year in a row, the Senate Majority has advanced bold, meaningful steps to expand voting rights and voter access as our first legislative priority. This is because we know that voting is the right that safeguards all our other rights. Over the past year, that’s become clearer than ever before. The legislation we passed today will ensure ballots are counted when a voters’ intent is clear, improve and simplify procedures for requesting and returning absentee ballots, and expedite the canvassing process that has often dragged on for weeks. These bills are critical to ensuring that the law, and our elections administration, stands firmly on the side of the voters. I am grateful to Majority Leader Stewart-Cousins for prioritizing these important bills, and look forward to further improvements to New York’s elections.”
The additional voting reforms passed by the Senate Democratic Majority includes:
• Speeding Up the Absentee Ballot Counting Process: This bill, S.1027, sponsored by Deputy Majority Leader Senator Michael Gianaris, amends various provisions of the Election Law in order to allow for expedited review and canvassing of absentee ballots without compromising the integrity of elections.
• Preventing Disenfranchisement of Absentee Voters: This bill, S.253, sponsored by Senate Elections Committee Chair, Senator Zellnor Myrie, prohibits voiding absentee ballots on technicalities where intent of voters is clear and the law has been substantially complied with, including where there are stray marks or the ballot is undated but is time stamped by the Board of Elections.
• Permanently Authorizing Absentee Ballot Drop Boxes: This bill, S.492, sponsored by Senator Brad Hoylman, authorizes the Board of Elections to establish absentee ballot drop-off locations or drop-boxes to provide voters with a convenient and secure option for delivering their absentee ballots.
• Increasing Transparency and Information about Absentee Ballots through a Tracking System: This bill, S.1028, sponsored by Senator Leroy Comrie, ensures that all voters in the state have access to absentee ballot tracking by requiring the New York State Board of Elections to create a statewide absentee ballot tracking system for absentee voters ensure that their vote is counted in the election while allowing counties and the New York City Board of Elections to also maintain their own absentee tracking systems.
• Implementing Permanent Authorization for Applying for Absentee Ballots Online: This bill, S.632, sponsored by Senator Robert Jackson, permanently allows voters to apply for absentee ballots online and allows absentee ballots postmarked through Election Day by making permanent Chapter 91 of the Laws of 2020, which sunset on December 31, 2020. Under current Election Law, applications may only be made by mail or fax.
• Creating Accountability for Timely Receipt of Absentee Ballots: This bill, S.516, sponsored by Deputy Majority Leader Michael Gianaris, establishes a mandatory timeframes for processing of absentee ballot applications and ballots by Boards of Elections based on when the application was received.
• Enabling Earlier Applications for Absentee Ballots: This bill, S.631, sponsored by Senator Julia Salazar, permits Boards of Elections to receive absentee ballot applications earlier than thirty days before the applicable Election Day by making permanent Chapter 138 of the Laws of 2020, which sunset on December 31, 2020.
• No-Excuse Absentee Voting Constitutional Amendment: This legislation, S.360, sponsored by Senator Leroy Comrie, amends the State Constitution to allow for any voter to vote by absentee without an excuse.
• Ensuring Voters Timely Receipt of Absentee Ballots: This bill, S.264, sponsored by Senator Zellnor Myrie, sets deadline for absentee ballot applications sent by mail to 15 days before the election, up from 7 days, to better allow for voters timely receiving their absentee ballots.
Senator Jamaal Bailey said, “New Yorkers have never been more engaged in our elections. I am proud to be a member of a conference that from the first day of our majority, has prioritized the expansion of voting rights, improvements in the absentee ballot process, and has worked tirelessly to prevent voter disenfranchisement. This year we continue, making critical changes designed to ensure New Yorkers are even more confident in the counting and delivery of their votes, and user friendly to encourage more New Yorkers to become civically engaged. I would like to thank Majority Leader Andrea Stewart-Cousins, Elections Committee Chair Zellnor Myrie, and my colleagues that sponsored the legislation included in the package.”
Senator Alessandra Biaggi said, “In 2020 I was proud to sponsor legislation to temporarily expand absentee ballot voting to all New York voters, ensuring that our communities can safely cast their ballots throughout the course of the pandemic. It is an honor to join my colleagues in 2021 to pass legislation that will bolster the efficiency and accessibility of our absentee voting system, and move to permanently allow any eligible voter to cast an absentee ballot without an excuse. This is a monumental step in our work to build safe and fair elections in New York State.”
Senator Shelley B. Mayer said, “This year’s primary and general elections reaffirmed the critical benefit of allowing all voters the safe and easily accessible option to vote by mail in New York State. I am proud to vote for a package of additional election reforms to enhance the state’s Absentee Ballot laws including expedited review and canvassing of ballots, establishing Absentee Ballot drop boxes, and requiring Absentee Ballot tracking, among other reforms. I look forward to continuing to work with my colleagues on adopting reforms that modernize the state’s election laws and make it easier for citizens to cast their ballots while protecting the integrity of the system.”
Jennifer Wilson, Deputy Director of the League of Women Voters of NYS, said, “The reliance on absentee voting during the COVID-19 pandemic highlighted the need for several important fixes to the state’s absentee voting operations. This package of bills will ensure New York State voters have adequate access to apply for, submit, and track their absentee ballot. These procedural fixes will give voters greater peace of mind when electing to vote by absentee ballot in future elections. We applaud the Senate for moving forward this package of bills and hope to see additional reforms related to the timing and transparency in reporting election results to the public.”
Dustin Czarny, Onondaga County Elections Commissioner and Chair Democratic Caucus of the NYS Elections Commissioners Association,said, “These legislative changes will go a long way towards fixing some of the byzantine process we have in New York. Improving our absentee and vote by mail system will not only give voters more options but will give clear direction to Boards of Elections across the state. I am happy to support these bills.”