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Registration, Absentees Part Of Ballot Decision

Voting rights are the subject of two ballot proposals for New Yorkers’ approval during the 2021 election.

Proposal 3 eliminates the 10-day advance voter registration requirement, amending Article 2, Section 5 of the state constitution that states a citizen must be registered to vote at least 10 days before an election. If the amendment is approved, it would be up to the state Legislature to pass a law allowing a citizen to vote less than 10 days before the election.

Proposal 4, meanwhile, authorizes no-excuse absentee ballot voting, removing language from the state constitution that restricts absentee voting to people facing one of two specific circumstances: those who expect to be absent from their county on Election Day and those who can’t vote at their polling place because of illness or physical disability.

PROPOSAL 3 — VOTER REGISTRATION

Those in favor of the amendment say it will increase the number of potential voters by shortening or eliminating the deadline to register to vote and allow the state Legislature to implement same-day voter registration.

“Today with the passage of this Constitutional Amendment and hopefully with its ratification by the people of the state of New York, we will do away with an antiquated time period and allow for this body to debate how best to make sure all New Yorkers who are eligible to vote are able to vote,” said Assemblyman Robert Carroll, D-Brooklyln, on the Assembly floor. “And that debate should be centered around 21st century technology and best practices from around our country. And it happens to be with 21st century technology and best practices from around our country, we will see that making it possible for New Yorkers to register and vote as close to the election as possible is the best policy. They do it in other states. They do it during early voting in other states. There’s no reason that New York can’t do it. There’s no reason why we can’t make sure that we secure and verify those votes. So I look forward to working with my colleagues in the future to make sure that that happens, and today we take one step closer to making sure that every New Yorker who is eligible to vote is able to vote and able to exercise the franchise and able to exercise their constitutional rights.”

Concerns surrounding Proposal 3 are should same-day voter registration be implemented after the amendment is approved, election officials may have difficulty determining how many ballots are needed at each poll site, leading to wasteful election spending or an inability for voters to cast their ballot if a poll site runs out of ballots. Concerns have also been raised regarding fraud if a person illegally registers at multiple sites and votes.

Assemblyman Andrew Goodell, R-Jamestown, also raised concerns regarding timely election results when debating the amendment on the Assembly floor earlier this year. Goodelll noted taking cases to the Court of Appeals challenging the validity of voters who have moved to a different county and whose vote could decide an election.

“Just this year we witnessed one of the embarrassing situations where New York state was one of the last states in the entire nation to certify a congressional election,” Goodell said. “It went beyond three months. And amongst the issues that the parties were litigating extensively is the difficulty of implementing automatic voter registration and then making sure that the voter roles are updated and everyone has an opportunity to vote. We all want as many people as possible to vote. It’s an important civic responsibility. But at the same time we also want to make sure that every voter’s registration are properly authorized and qualified to vote in an election. And those are not always easy issues, whether in a primary or in a general election.”

PROPOSAL 4 — NO-EXCUSE ABSENTEE BALLOTS

Supporters of Proposal 4 say any voter would have the right to request an absentee ballot for a primary or general election, increasing voter access to those elections.

They also point to the heavier use of absentee ballots during the COVID-19 pandemic, including for school budget votes. Removing specific causes for absentee ballot access means voters can vote absentee if there is another pandemic. Currently 34 states and Washington, D.C., do not require an excuse for those who want to vote by absentee ballot or mail.

Lastly, increasing absentee ballot use could result in fewer instances of long lines at polling places by reducing the number of in-person voters.

“We have slowly chipped away at all the phony restrictions on absentee ballots. It used to be you had to get a doctor’s note,” said Assemblyman Jonathan Jacobson, D-Newburgh. “It used to be that if you were out of the area for a certain period of time but you were back at quarter to nine, well then you could have voted when that really wasn’t the case. And I do believe the fundamental principle is that voting should be simple and easy. We should remove all barriers. And unlike some of our friends on the other side of the aisle, let’s not look for red herrings. Let’s not look for reasons why to deny people an easier way to vote. We should make it simple. We should make it easy. And by doing this, we’re going to have a radical transformation. It’s going to be, I want a ballot. Please mail it to me. Or, I want to pick up a ballot. Please give it to me. I don’t think that’s radical at all, to come down to it. It’s really a matter of common sense.”

Concerns include provivding less protection against potential absentee ballot fraud because the amendment doesn’t offer suggestions to increase protection against potential fraud. Additional absentee ballots can make getting election results slower and can increase in additional costs for ballots, envelopes and postage.

“Mr. Speaker, when this legislation was introduced a couple of years ago I supported it as an alternative to early voting,” Goodell said on the Assembly floor earlier this year. “I thought it was a preferable method of maximizing the voter opportunity. But the legislature went ahead with early voting, and as a result the residents of the state of New York can vote for a couple weeks before the election. And with the advent of early voting, the need for absentee ballots went down dramatically because you had two weeks to schedule a time for you to vote. And so the likelihood that you wouldn’t be able to vote in a two-week period was dramatically reduced. My concern, of course, is that as we eliminate any excuse and as we look at other legislation that’s actually on our calendar today, we can see the move is to eliminate any signature requirement for absentee ballots, but no requirement that voter rolls be purged of people who are no longer alive or are no longer residing where they should be residing. And so we’re seeing a substantial erosion in all of the provisions that we normally would look to to help ensure voter integrity. And this is the last Constitutional Amendment on this subject. And as for the other ones, it makes it easier for those who are not eligible to vote or shouldn’t be voting or are taking advantage of our system to obtain an absentee ballot with no excuse whatsoever, with no justification whatsoever, even though they have two weeks to vote, and thereby circumvent our voter integrity provisions.”

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