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Long Island

Democrats seek early voting to combat low voter turnout

Proposals also include consolidating state and federal primary days and allowing voters who want to vote in a party primary to switch parties closer to the vote.

ALBANY — For as little as $6 million in a $168 billion state budget New York could join 37 states in allowing voters to cast ballots before Election Day, to switch or join a party in time to vote in its primary, and adopt other measures to boost the state’s low voter turnout, Democrats said Tuesday.

“Dr. Martin Luther King once said voting is the foundation stone of political action,” said Senate Democratic leader Andrea Stewart-Cousins (D-Yonkers). “Well, here in New York that stone is crumbling. New York ranks near the bottom of political participation.”

She said most of the proposals to make voting easier could be in place by the fall elections, when Democrats are trying to frame the mid-term congressional elections as a referendum on GOP President Donald Trump and which will decide majority control of the State Senate.

For the first time, Gov. Andrew M. Cuomo, who has long supported many of the measures, tied the proposals to his state budget plan. Under state law, Cuomo has extra leverage over the State Legislature in negotiating a state budget by the April 1 deadline. But Cuomo included the cost as an expense for municipalities, which Senate Democrats say should be borne by the state.

The push for more than a dozen measures long opposed by the Senate’s Republican majority was led Monday by Senate Democrats, Common Cause-NY and the League of Women Voters. New York was ranked as the 41st among states after 57 percent of eligible voters cast ballots in the 2016 presidential election, according to the nonprofit United States Elections Project. By comparison, Minnesota, Maine, New Hampshire, Colorado and Wisconsin, where voters can register on Election Day, have turnout rates greater than 70 percent.

In November, fewer than 22 percent of voters in New York City voted in the general election for mayor.

The Senate’s Republican majority and Cuomo didn’t immediately respond to a request for comment.

The issue could be part of negotiations for the state budget, but would require support from Senate Republicans to get the bills to the floor for a vote.

The proposals include:

  • Allowing voters to cast ballots days before Election Day.
  • Consolidating state and federal primary days.
  • Repealing a constitutional requirement that requires 10 days between registering to vote and voting. That could lead to allowing voters to register the same day they vote.
  • Allowing voters who want to vote in a party primary to switch parties closer to the vote, when candidates may be known. Currently voters have to wait nearly a year to vote in a primary after switching parties in most cases.
  • Allowing voters to cast ballots by mail through absentee ballots without declaring one of the permissible reasons, such as being out of town for work.

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