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Fast start in Albany: Dems say they will approve voting bills Monday

They include allowing early voting and consolidating the state and federal primaries on one day in June.

Newly elected Senate Majority Leader Andrea Stewart-Cousins (D-Yonkers)

Newly elected Senate Majority Leader Andrea Stewart-Cousins (D-Yonkers) receives a standing ovation in the State Senate during opening day of the 2019 legislative session  in Albany. Photo Credit: AP/Hans Pennink

ALBANY — Getting off to a fast start, Democratic state legislators said Thursday they will approve a sweeping set of voting and election-law reforms on Monday.

The initiatives include legalizing early voting, consolidating the state and federal primaries on one day and eliminating a loophole that allowed companies to easily skirt campaign-donation limits.

They also pledge to pass bills that would ask New Yorkers to amend the state constitution to permit same-day voter registration and voting by mail.

Not included in the package is a proposal to end the state's oft-criticized “fusion voting,” which allows political parties to endorse competing parties’ candidates and candidates themselves to appear on multiple ballot lines.

Then on Tuesday, the Senate and Assembly plan to take up a bill to add gender identity and gender expression as protected classes under the state’s human rights laws, and another to outlaw so-called gay “conversion therapy.”

And after the Martin Luther King Jr. Day holiday, Jan. 21, Democrats said they will approve two other high-profile bills: One to codify abortion rights under Roe v. Wade into state law, and the other the so-called "Dream Act," which would permit state college-aid programs to cover children of adults who are in the country illegally.

Many of the election law changes have been supported by Democrats for years, but were blocked by a Republican-led State Senate. After Democrats won overwhelming control of the chamber on Election Day, they vowed to approve “voting reform” as one of their first actions.

“Our majority is hitting the ground running and our first priority is to make our democracy work,” Senate Majority Leader Andrea Stewart-Cousins (D-Yonkers) said. “State government needs to empower New Yorkers to exercise their constitutional right to vote, and that is exactly what the Senate Democratic majority is going to do.”

The two houses formally opened the 2019 legislative session Wednesday. This coming Monday marks the first regular day of business. 

The bills expected to be approved would:

  •  Allow voting to begin up to 11 days before Election Day at specially designated polling locations.
  •  Consolidate the state and federal primaries, setting voting for the last week in June. Historically, the state primary has been in September.
  •  Eliminate a loophole that allows companies to give unlimited campaign contributions through the use of subsidiary “limited liability companies.”
  • Allow 16- and 17-year-olds to “preregister” to vote so they will be in the system before they turn 18.

Assembly Speaker Carl Heastie (D-Bronx) said his house, which has supported many of these bills for years, will act too.  "It is our plan to pass these Monday," Heastie said Thursday on "The Capitol Pressroom," a public radio program.

Gov. Andrew M. Cuomo, also a Democrat, backs the proposals as well, indicating the voting package is primed for quick approval.

The governor also wants the legislature to pass measures to ban corporate contributions altogether, sanction public financing of campaigns and make Election Day a state holiday, said Rich Azzopardi, a Cuomo senior adviser.

Sen. Zellnor Myrie  (D-Brooklyn), sponsor of the early voting bill, said New York is behind dozens of other states on the issue. The current law, which limits people to casting ballots on Election Day or by absentee ballot, tamps down turnout, he said.

“One thing we can do is give people more than 14 hours on one single day to exercise their right to vote,” Myrie said. Under his proposal, early voting could begin two Saturdays before Election Day.

The expansion would cost the state about $7 million annually, he said, though it would be more than made up by consolidating the primaries.

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