Early voting in NY? Reformers make last-ditch push

ALBANY - Reform advocates rallied Tuesday at the state Capitol as part of a push to reshape the state's often-criticized voting laws as time winds down on New York's annual legislative session.

Former gubernatorial and congressional candidate Zephyr Teachout joined good-government groups and labor unions Tuesday for a last-gasp rally, hoping to convince the the state Legislature to approve voting reforms -- including one that would allow early voting -- before leaving the Capitol.

State lawmakers are scheduled to break for the year on June 21.

"We know that New Yorkers want to see accessible, reliable, convenient voting," Common Cause/NY executive director Susan Lerner told a crowd of about 150. "It needs to be easy to register, it needs to be easy to vote, so every single eligible New Yorker is able to exercise that basic democracy right -- the right to cast a ballot."

New York regularly ranks near the bottom nationwide when it comes to voter turnout.

About 57 percent of the state's voting-eligible population cast a ballot in last year's presidential election, ranking 41st among the 50 states and Washington D.C., according to the U.S. Elections Project, which tracks turnout.
Reform advocates say updating the state's voting laws could be a way to boost turnout.

One measure supported by the reform groups is early voting, which allows voters to cast a ballot in the weeks or days leading up to an election as a way to make it easier to vote.

Thirty-seven states have some form of early voting, according to the National Conference of State Legislatures. New York is not one of them.

Other bills supported by the advocates create automatic voter registration when an eligible resident registers a car or fills out various other state forms, allow parolees to cast a ballot, and relax the deadlines for switching political party before a primary election, which currently has to be done months in advance.

Those measures have support in the Democrat-led Assembly, while Gov. Andrew Cuomo has called for early voting and allowing voters to register on Election Day.

But several of them face an uphill climb in the Republican-controlled Senate, where the GOP has long raised concern about opening the door to voter fraud.

And there appeared no push by legislative leaders to get deal before they leave Albany for the year.

There are just five scheduled working days left in the annual session.

Teachout, a Fordham Law School professor who ran for a congressional seat in the Hudson Valley last year, said New York should be "leading the country, not in the bottom of the country" when it comes to voter turnout.

"Not only is it hard to switch parties, but you can't vote until noon in upstate New York," Teachout said. "The system is unacceptable."

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