New York City Board of Election staff members count absentee...

New York City Board of Election staff members count absentee ballots in a 2021 election. Credit: AP / Mary Altaffer

ALBANY — Gov. Kathy Hochul on Wednesday signed a bill into law that will allow voting by mail during the nine-day early voting period, prompting Republicans to sue to block the measure.

The Early Mail Voter Act passed by the State Legislature earlier this year has several provisions that Democratic leaders said will make voting easier and improve New York’s traditional low turnout on election days. The bill alters many provisions of the decades-old law providing for mail-in absentee ballots, which allows mail-in voting only under specific circumstances such as illness.

The new law allows mail-in voting without an excuse during the early voting period before election days to any registered voter who requests one in writing. Traditional absentee ballots still can be cast beyond the early voting period.

Other voting measures signed into law by Hochul Wednesday would:

  • Allow voters to register to vote and cast their ballots on the first day of early voting.
  • Schedule the presidential primary for April 2.
  • Require schools to promote preregistration by students.
  • Require representatives to the Electoral College to choose the candidate who wins the state’s popular vote.

“The easier we make it to vote, the healthier our democracy will be,” said the bill’s co-sponsor, Senate Deputy Leader Michael Gianaris (D-Queens).

Democratic lawmakers introduced the bill following the defeat of a related measure by voters in 2021. That referendum would have amended the state constitution to allow same-day voter registration and absentee voting by mail without an excuse.

Republicans, however, mounted a well-financed campaign to defeat it, citing concerns about the potential for widespread fraud.

On Wednesday, Republicans announced a lawsuit to block the law as unconstitutional before it becomes effective Jan. 1.

Senate Republican leader Rob Ortt of Lockport called the new law an unconstitutional scheme by Democrats “who repeatedly attempt to rig the system in their favor.”

Democrats appeared to benefit more from early and mail-in voting during the pandemic and the option was popular with voters.

Mail-in voting in addition to absentee voting was temporarily allowed by executive order during the COVID-19 pandemic to reduce lines and crowds at polling places and provide voters an option to avoid contracting or spreading the virus at the polls.

Republicans bringing the lawsuit include former Rep. Peter King of Seaford, the state Republican and Conservative committees and Rep. Elise Stefanik of Schuylerville, who in Congress on Jan. 6, 2021, opposed certifying Joe Biden’s 2020 win over former President Donald Trump.

Hochul said the lawsuit won’t deter implementing the law.

“There will always be individuals who are trying to undermine our efforts to expand access to the ballot box,” she said. “This is a test of where you stand: Either you're for America or against America; for democracy, against democracy; for voting rights, against voting rights.”

Susan Lerner of Common Cause-NY, a good-government group, said early mail-in voting has worked well in other states.

“It really is extraordinary how frightened elected officials are of voters,” Lerner said, referring to the Republicans bringing the lawsuit. “There is nothing to fear from encouraging more citizens to vote.”

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