New York lawmakers again push for voting reforms

ALBANY, N.Y. (AP) — It's time New York state finally changed its antiquated voting rules and procedures that are perpetuating the state's low voter turnout, Democratic lawmakers in the Legislature said Tuesday as they announced yet another election reform package.

New York ranks among the bottom in terms of voter turnout, a situation Senate Democratic Minority Leader Andrea Stewart-Cousins, of Yonkers, called "extremely embarrassing" during a news conference detailing some of the 13 voting rights bills aimed at making it easier for New Yorkers to cast ballots.

Among the Democrats' top priorities is allowing early voting, which already is in place in 34 states. The early voting bill would provide state funding so local governments wouldn't have to cover related costs, estimated at $6 million to $7 million, said Sen. Brian Kavanagh, who represents parts of Brooklyn and Lower Manhattan.

New York state ranked 41st in voter turnout during the 2016 elections, the Democrats said.

"Our bills will modernize voter registration, implement early voting, protect voters' rights, and cut red tape which has kept far too many New Yorkers from exercising their constitutional right," Stewart-Cousins said.

Among the reform package's other ideas:

—hold state and federal primaries on the same day to cut election costs.

—establish voter registration locations at designated government offices.

—clarify ballot layouts to make them easier to understand.

—reduce voter registration deadline from 25 to 15 days for primaries and from 20 days to 10 days for general elections.

Democratic Gov. Andrew Cuomo's efforts to pass voting reforms last year didn't go anywhere as Albany lawmakers again couldn't agree on what needs fixing.

The Independent Democratic Conference, breakaway Democrats who vote with Republicans to give the GOP a Senate majority, have proposed reforms similar to those being pushed by mainline Democrats, including early voting that would allow voters to cast ballots before Election Day.

The Senate's GOP majority didn't respond to requests for information on its voting reform plans.

Various advocacy groups support voting reforms, and among the scores of advocates who rallied inside the Capitol Tuesday were registered voters who told stories of impediments they faced while trying to vote, including having to wait several hours in long lines to cast their ballot.

"It's no wonder New York state continues to rank among the worst in the nation in voter turnout," said Jennifer Wilson of the League of Women Voters of New York State. "We hope to see many of these reforms pass this year."