ALBANY — Calling the state’s voter turnout rates “embarrassingly low,” newly reunited state Senate Democrats on Tuesday called on their Republican counterparts to support measures aimed making it easier for New Yorkers to vote.
Senate Democratic Leader Andrew Stewart-Cousins said at a Capitol news conference that New York ranked 41st among states in voter turnout for the 2016 general election.
“That’s embarrassing,” said Stewart-Cousins, who represents Yonkers.
With less than two months left in the 2018 legislative session, Democrats are pushing a package of election law reforms that include early voting, allowing no-excuse absentee ballots, holding state and federal primaries on the same day, and establishing uniform voting hours for primaries.
Early voting, something that’s already allowed in 34 states and the District of Columbia, would have the biggest impact on improving voter turnout, Democrats said. Their measure would allow votes to be cast during a designated period before a primary, special election or general election, with the local expenses incurred covered by the state.
“All these proposals do one simple thing: they allow people to vote more easily. Now who the heck can be against something that simple?” said Sen. Michael Gianaris of Queens, who joined fellow Democrats in blaming Senate Republicans for blocking any of the reform measures from coming up for a vote.
The Democrat-controlled Assembly and Democratic Gov. Andrew Cuomo support many of the measures.
Democrats now hold 31 Senate seats after an eight-member breakaway group of Democrats rejoined their mainline conference last month for the first time since 2011, when the Independent Democratic Conference was formed. Republicans also have 31 seats but hold a one-seat majority thanks to Simcha Felder, a Brooklyn Democrat who caucuses with the GOP.
With registered Democratic voters outnumbering registered Republicans by a more than 2-1 margin in New York state, there’s little incentive for Senate Republicans to pass legislation likely to increase that deficit. Three GOP senators have already said they won‘t seek re-election in November, and others are said to be on the fence about running again.
“There is no evidence that the so-called ‘reforms’ advanced today by Senate Democrats will encourage voter participation in any meaningful way,” said Candice Giove, a spokeswoman for Senate Republicans. “However, we do know these proposals will dramatically increase costs for local county boards of election, putting even more pressure on taxpayers.”
Felder’s office didn’t return messages seeking his stance on the election reform bills.