From Worst To First: New York State's Voter Reforms

New York’s election laws were outdated. Very outdated. We’re talking, after all, about a state that doesn’t offer early voting or vote-by-mail, holds different primary days for federal and state elections, and has some of the nation’s most complicated voter registration regulations.  While states like North Carolina and Mississippi cut back on things like early voting and polling locations, New York is in a draconian league of its own and has been for a while.

Given that there were dramatic changes made to the New York State Senate in the last election, it was no surprise that when the new session began in January, election reform wasn’t just among the first issues raised, it was THE first issue raised.  On the first day of the legislative session five election reform bills passed in both the assembly and senate and were delivered to the governor’s desk.


These measured included:

  • S1099, which provides for transfer of registration when voters move

  • S1100, which allows 16 and 17 year olds to pre-register

  • S1101, which closes loopholes on LLC contributions

  • S1102, which provides for early voting 10 days prior to an election

  • S1103, provides for one primary on the 4th Tuesday of June

*(For more info, here are the full Senate bills).  

The other good news is that these votes were overwhelmingly bipartisan! For years assembly and senate members had said New York’s voting laws should be changed, but concerns about costs and the non-existent scourge of voter fraud had kept bills stuck in senate committees. Some of them had literally been there for decades. This year, within one day of the session starting they were on their way to the governor’s desk. Within ten days of their passage in both chambers, they had been signed into law. What a win!

There is, of course, always one little hiccup. The governor has not provided funding to pay for these new laws, an ongoing issue in a state that continues to be plagued by concerns that improvements cost too much. While money will be saved by consolidating primaries into one day, the big expense is early voting.  (Of course if our state legislators and governor were Vote Captains, they would know that early voting is actually a pretty seamless transition. The Board of Elections had already been doing something similar, since during the last few election cycles enrolled voters could go to their county Board of Elections and vote in person by absentee ballot. This past year many of these offices already had Saturday hours similar to what the new law requires.)

New York State still has a long way to go on reforming election laws if it is going to follow the new state slogan, ‘from worst to first’.  The first day’s effort was encouraging and with our new dynamic state senate, election reform is in good hands.  

Oh, and by the way, how did New York suddenly end up with such effective legislators?  There was a huge effort in 2018 to get out the vote with a focus on the state senate! (Voting matters!)