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Once a 'Laughingstock' on Voting Rights, Reform Package Moves New York Toward More 'Inclusive Democracy'

"Make no mistake: this is far from the end to voting reform in our state. Our state needs a whole host of reforms to repair and expand the right to vote."

voting rights advocates

Voting rights advocates welcomed a victory on Monday as the New York State legislature passed an election reform package. (Photo: Democracy Is For People/Twitter)

Voting rights advocates celebrated Monday night as state lawmakers in New York—long considered a "national laughingstock" on voting rights—took a major step toward creating a "strong, inclusive democracy" by passing election reform legislation.

The legislative package—which Democratic Gov. Andrew Cuomo indicated he will sign into law—includes provisions on early voting; the consolidation of state and federal primaries to one day; same-day registration; pre-registration for teenagers; portable registration; and "no excuse" absentee voting.

"For far too long, New York's antiquated voting and campaign finance laws have kept the promise of a true democracy at bay. The fact that the legislature took these extraordinary steps to begin the process of reform on Day 2 of the legislative session is a testament to their commitment to change," said Amshula Jayaram, a senior campaign strategist at Demos, a member of the Let NY Vote coalition.

"We are grateful to the legislature," Jayaram added, "and confident that this is just the beginning of a process to modernize our voting system, open up our democracy, and release the chokehold of wealth on our government."

Members of the coalition and other voting rights advocates turned to social media to welcome the move:

New York has long been ridiculed for having some of the most restrictive voting rights laws in the United States, as journalist Ari Berman outlined for Mother Jones on Monday:

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New York elections have been plagued by voting problems in recent years, and the state routinely ranks near the bottom of the country in voter turnout. (It was 42nd in 2018.) In November's midterm elections, voting machines broke down across New York City, leading to lines as long as four hours. In statewide primaries two months earlier, there were widespread reports of registered voters not appearing on the voting rolls, including Dante DeBlasio, the 21-year-old son of New York City Mayor Bill DeBlasio. New York was the only state to hold separate primaries for state and federal elections—diminishing turnout by making it less convenient for voters to cast ballots in both—and voting in those primaries required registering with a political party nearly a year before the election. Two years earlier, in the April 2016 presidential primary between Hillary Clinton and Bernie Sanders, 120,000 people were wrongly purged from voting rolls in Brooklyn.

"Make no mistake: this is far from the end to voting reform in our state. Our state needs a whole host of reforms to repair and expand the right to vote."
—State Sen. Zellnor Myrie

"Voting is the right that protects all other rights, yet too many New Yorkers struggle to get to the ballot box because of family/work responsibilities, or other barriers. We need to give people the opportunity to vote when they have the most time. That starts with early voting," Democratic state Sen. Zellnor Myrie of Brooklyn, who sponsored the legislation, said in a series of tweets.

"While NY presents itself as a progressive state, our voter participation rates and voting regulations lag behind most of the country," he continued. "Make no mistake: this is far from the end to voting reform in our state. Our state needs a whole host of reforms to repair and expand the right to vote."

Some advocates welcomed the victory while also calling for further measures such as automatic voter registration—which has been enacted in a growing number of states—and the restoration of voting rights for people on parole.

Rep. Brian Higgins (D-N.Y.), meanwhile, urged Congress to follow suit and pass the For the People Act (H.R. 1)—which, as Common Dreams has reported, "would promote public financing of elections, reduce the influence of corporate dark money, strengthen ethics and financial disclosure rules, and bolster voting rights, which are under severe attack from the Republican Party, the Trump White House, and the right-wing Supreme Court."

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