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Referendum on same-day voter registration will be on ballot this fall

A person walks by electronic displays with messages

A person walks by electronic displays with messages encouraging people to vote on Election Day on West 66th Street in Manhattan on Nov. 3. Credit: Charles Eckert

ALBANY — While other states are moving to put more restrictions on voting, New York this fall will ask residents to vote on proposals to ease access to the ballot.

One would permit "same day voter registration," allowing people to register to vote all the way up to Election Day. Current law requires someone to register at least 10 days before Election Day.

The other would eliminate the requirement that someone provide a valid reason for requesting an absentee ballot, such as illness or being out of town on Election Day. Instead, anyone requesting an absentee ballot could get one.

Both proposals will be presented as constitutional amendments on the statewide ballot this fall after the state Assembly gave each final legislative approval last week.

"These bills will increase accessibility to the polls and continue some of the safety precautions we began taking during the pandemic," Assembly Speaker Carl Heastie (D-Bronx) said after the Assembly approved the measures. "As we see states roll back access to voting, New York will fight to make sure every eligible voter is able to have their voice heard."

Dozens of states have acted to place more restrictions on voting or are considering such legislation. Most of it centers on rolling back absentee voting, which was widely expanded around the nation last year amid the pandemic.

In Georgia, for example, absentee voters will have to provide identity documentation, such as a driver’s license, and will have a much smaller window for requesting and returning ballots.

Iowa also shortened the time frame for requesting and returning absentee ballots and reduced its number of early voting days.

New York, like others, expanded access during pandemic. For instance, the window for obtaining absentee ballots was extended. Gov. Andrew M. Cuomo, through executive order, waived the requirement that one must provide a reason for requesting an absentee ballot.

But to make the latter permanent, lawmakers said the New York constitution needs to be amended.

The vote in the Assembly, where Democrats outnumber Republicans 107-43, largely was along party lines. The State Senate approved the measures earlier this year.

"This legislation will make it easier for eligible New Yorkers to exercise their right to vote here in New York," Assemb. Robert Carroll (D-Manhattan) said.

Twenty states already offer same-day registration. Studies show voter fraud associated with the practice is exceedingly rare.

But some Republicans who voted against the measure cited the potential for fraud.

"The potential for mischief is there," Assemb. Michael Fitzpatrick (R-St. James), who voted against the bill, said. He said he believes New York already makes it pretty easy for residents to register and vote.

"The idea that having to register to vote 10 days before Election Day is a hardship, I don’t believe that," Fitzpatrick said. "We all work with deadlines in our lives."

The Suffolk County Republican also voted against "no excuse absentee" voting proposal, contending it’s unnecessary.

"If you vote absentee, no one calls you up to verify or ask for a doctor’s note," Fitzpatrick said. He said he believes the expansion of the early voting period in New York to cover nine days before Election Day also should reduce the demand for absentee voting.

The state Assembly also gave final passage to two other voting measures.

One permits voters to request absentee ballots electronically, instead of just in person or via mail. The other would make Election Day the last day an absentee ballot can be postmarked, which is consistent with the deadline for hand-delivered absentee ballots, lawmakers said.

These bills don’t require approval in a voter referendum because they don’t impact the state constitution. Instead, they must be either signed or vetoed by the governor, who backed similar initiatives in 2020.

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