Senate Passes Bundle of Voter Access Legislation

J.M. Lesinski
A shot of the parking lot at dusk at the Wimbledon Plaza in West Seneca, New York.Photo by J.M. Lesinski

As voter access and worries of disenfranchisement continue to worry the nation, the New York State Senate has passed a large bundle of laws to combat these concerns. Included in the legislative package are bills S.557, which amends election law to permit counties the choice to create two or more locations for portable polling places for early voting, S.492 which lets local Board of Elections establish absentee ballot drop-off locations, and S.253 which entails the canvassing of paper ballots when the express intentions of the voter are unambiguous.

“At the start of every session we pay homage to the voters of this state and take action to ensure their votes are respected and protected,” remarked Senate Majority Leader Andrea Stewart-Cousins of the legislative package. “As states around the country have rolled back voting reforms, here in New York, we have made it clear that elections matter, voting matters, and leadership matters. The bills advanced today continue our efforts to modernize our electoral system and create a fairer and more transparent system. I applaud the bill sponsors for advancing these bills and standing up for New York voters.”

Legislation also passed includes S.7619, which allows voters the option to request an absentee ballot for school district elections in 2022, S.6214 which officially codifies the right for voters to register at a second place of residence, and S.7565B, which lengthens the legislation allowing COVID-19 as a justification for absentee voting.

“COVID-19 continues to impact every aspect of our lives, especially as positivity rates and hospitalizations surge across our state –– but we cannot allow it to undermine our democracy and New Yorkers’ sacred right to vote,” Senator Alessandra Biaggi said of the legislation she championed. “The failure of the voting rights ballot proposals in New York and the threat to voting rights across our nation place an even greater responsibility on the Legislature to do the right thing and prioritize voting reforms. My bill, S7565B, will ensure New Yorkers concerned with in-person voting due to the pandemic have the ability to request a ballot through 2022. As the end of the pandemic continues to remain uncertain, we must prioritize public health and ensure that New Yorkers do not have to choose between safeguarding their own health and fulfilling their civic duty. I want to thank Majority Leader Andrea Stewart-Cousins for prioritizing this issue at the very start of this legislative session."

Also passed were bills S.1126A, which prohibits corporate contributions from businesses owned by foreign entities, S.4658 which designates polling places on college campuses in some instances, S.1283 which modifies candidate order on ballots to avoid voter drop-off, S.284A which necessitates counting affidavit ballots of voters if a voter goes at a polling place in the correct county but in the incorrect election district, and S.2951 which decreases the time to register to vote to the constitutional minimum of ten days before primary and general elections.

“While we were disappointed the constitutional amendment to permit same-day registration was not approved in November, the legislature has an important opportunity this year to make voter registration more accessible by eliminating the early registration deadlines in current law and allowing people to register until the tenth day before each election,” noted Senator Brian Kavanagh of the legislative package. “This and the other reforms in this legislative package will build upon our success in recent years in greatly increasing New Yorkers' access to voting and dramatically improving virtually every aspect of the way we administer elections--at a time when there are some in our country seeking to make it more difficult for Americans to participate in elections, and in some cases to suppress the votes of communities of color. I am proud to support this election reform package and I commend Majority Leader Andrea Stewart-Cousins, Deputy Leader Michael Gianaris, Elections Committee Chair Zellnor Myrie, and all of the bills’ sponsors for their leadership on this issue."

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I have worked as a professional journalist for over five years now, covering the arts, music, food, politics, and culture up and down both coasts of the United States. I have a B.A. in English from SUNY Fredonia with minors in Psychology and Creative Writing, as well as an M.F.A. in Creative Writing from California State University, Fresno.

Buffalo, NY

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