Assemblymember Taylor: Election Reform Kicks Offs Legislative Session

Assemblymember Al Taylor (D-Manhattan) helped pass a series of bills to make voting easier for all New Yorkers and to prevent special interests from having a controlling influence on political campaigns. The Assembly has consistently passed election reform legislation year after year, leading the fight to expand voting opportunities and increase transparency, but legislation floundered in the state Senate. Now, with new leadership in the Senate, there is new hope that the bills will become law and bring real change to the New York State voting process.

“One of the most important components of American democracy is the right to vote. For far too long, New Yorkers have struggled to exercise that right.” said the Assemblymember. “It has been a difficult and frustrating process, as evidenced by the experience of many in November, and with the legislation we passed this week, we can improve the system. With our new partners in the state Senate, we believe that now we will finally be able improve opportunities for New Yorkers to use their vote.”

Making voting easier and more accessible

To give New Yorkers ample time to cast their ballot and avoid long lines at polling sites, the Assembly passed legislation that would establish early voting in New York State. Early voting would take place during a nine-day period before any general, primary, run-off primary or special election (A.780). During the early voting period, polling locations would be required to be open for eight hours on weekdays and five hours on weekends and holidays, and to offer evening hours on at least two days. County boards of elections would have the option of providing additional early voting hours and would be required to publicize to voters the location, dates and hours of all early voting polling places within each county.

“With some New Yorkers in line for hours on Election Day last November and others unable to make it during polling hours due to work and family obligations as Election Day occurs during the work week, finding time to make it out to the polls on a specific portion of one day can be difficult or impossible,” Assemblymember Taylor pointed out. “An important part of getting more folks involved in our democracy is to make it more accessible for them to participate. By making it easier for New Yorkers everywhere to cast their ballot, we make our government a better reflection of our communities and help make all voices heard.”  

To increase access to mail-in ballots at home, the legislative package includes a bill that would amend the New York State Constitution to allow any citizen to receive an absentee ballot upon request, no questions asked (A.778). Under current law, residents can only receive absentee ballots if they expect to be absent from the county on the day of the election, or if they have an illness or physical disability. The amendment must be passed by both the Assembly and Senate in consecutive legislative terms before it goes before voters as a ballot referendum.

Modernizing voter registration

Furthermore, the Assembly passed legislation to allow for same-day voter registration, a practice already adopted by 17 other states and Washington, D.C.[1] The bill would amend the state constitution by removing the requirement that New Yorkers register to vote at least 10 days before an election (A.777).

Legislation was also passed instructing boards of elections to automatically transfer voter enrollment for New Yorkers who move from one county to another (A.775). And, to encourage young people to vote and become civically engaged, the legislative package includes a measure that would allow 16- and 17-year-olds to pre-register to vote (A.774).

Combining the state and federal primaries

Once again, the Assembly passed legislation to consolidate the state’s election calendar by combining the state and federal primary election dates to the fourth Tuesday in June (A.779). This would save taxpayers an estimated $25 million, reduce the burden on county boards of elections and keep New York State compliant with the federal Military and Overseas Voter Empowerment (MOVE) Act. Additionally, holding both primaries on the same date would make it easier for New Yorkers to participate in primaries, increasing voter turnout. Currently, New York is the only state that holds its federal and state primaries on different days.[2]

“Voting gives New Yorkers a chance to shape the future of their communities, the state and the nation,” Assemblymember Taylor explained. “The process should be as convenient and accessible as possible so the process is a better representation of our society.”

Closing the LLC loophole

Under current election law as interpreted by the State Board of Elections, individuals and corporations can make unlimited contributions to the same candidate, political party, or campaign committee by creating multiple limited liability companies (LLCs). Each LLC is treated as an individual donor, even if multiple LLCs are owned by the same person or entity, which makes it harder to determine the real contributor and allows them to evade campaign contribution limits.

The Assembly’s measure would extend the $5,000 aggregate contribution limit, already applicable to corporations, to include LLCs, and require LLCs to disclose the names of individuals with membership interests, attributing LLC contributions to them in proportion to such membership interest (A.776). By closing the LLC loophole, we can increase transparency, level the playing field in terms of campaign funding, and prevent nearly unlimited campaign contributions.

“For far too long, pay-to-play politics and special interests have had an outsized impact on our democracy,” noted the Assemblymember. “We passed legislation to close the LLC loophole once and for all so that everyone plays by the same rules. Everyone should have a fair and equal opportunity to make their voice heard through the electoral process, and this legislation will ensure that the process is more fair and equal to voters.”