Common Cause/NY Gives NYS "D-" for Voting Rights and Elections

Report endorsed by various civil rights groups evaluates current election laws and procedures against Bipartisan Presidential Commission; New York failing to enact national bi-partisan voting reforms

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NEW YORK, NY (01/13/2017)(readMedia)-- As New Yorkers pause to reflect on the legacy of Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. and his impact on voting rights across the United States, a new report released by Common Cause New York on Friday concludes that New York State's voting laws and election processes are among the weakest in the nation. The report, titled "Election Administration: How Does New York State Compare?" which was also endorsed by The Black Institute, Chhaya CDC, The Center for Law and Social Justice, APA VOICE, and the New York Immigration Coalition, gives the state a "D-" for its voting laws and administration, which impede rather than facilitate voting.

The report evaluates New York State election administration against the Presidential Commission on Election Administration's nineteen recommendations, as well as the laws of other states. Some of the commission's proposed reforms include modernizing voter records, streamlining bureaucratic processes, increasing accessibility of polling sites for disabled voters, and establishing early voting in the state.

New York State received low marks for failing to enact recommendations such as: making interstate exchanges of voter registration information more efficient; effectively allocating resources across polling places; transitioning to electronic poll books; establishing advisory groups for voters with disabilities and voters with limited English proficiency; expanding opportunities to vote before Election Day; and local jurisdiction coordination on voter-related data to improve the voter experience. Despite numerous pieces of legislation that would implement many of the recommendations of the Bipartisan Presidential Commission on Election Administration, the legislature has made little to no progress in passing them.

"The fact is many of New York State's voting laws and procedures have gone unchanged since they were first passed in the 19th century," said Susan Lerner, Executive Director of Common Cause New York. "As the progressive capital of the nation, New York should be leading – not following - the charge for modernizing and expanding voting rights. With the weakening of the Voting Rights Act, it is crucial that New York pass laws now that further empowers and protects citizens' right to vote."

"New York is a beacon for hope and progress, but antiquated voting laws and election processes depress turnout and undermine people's faith in democracy," said New York City Public Advocate Letitia James. "To live up to the ideals of our great state, it is imperative that New York amends its laws and eliminate unnecessary barriers to ensure that all eligible citizens can exercise their Constitutional right to vote."

"Chhaya fully supports the recommendations put forth by Common Cause New York in its latest Election Administration report," said Chhaya Executive Director Annetta Seecharran. "Everyday, Chhaya sees the limitations experienced by immigrant communities in fully participating in the civic life of our city and nation and in choosing who represents them. The recommendations for election reform would reduce the unnecessary barriers in our current system and allow for a deeper inclusion of our communities in the democratic processes that govern our nation."

"As a coalition seeking to increase civic engagement among Asian Americans in New York, APA VOICE endorses Common Cause's report and its proposed reforms," said James Hong, Interim Executive Director of the MinKwon Center and spokesperson for APA VOICE. "New York voters face numerous obstacles when casting their ballots, and these challenges are even more pronounced among Asian American voters, perhaps the newest of New Yorkers. When English is not your first language, and this is your first time registering to vote, navigating a new voting system such as New York State's is difficult, confusing and dis-empowering, if not disenfranchising. We call on the governor and the state legislature to heed these recommendations and begin reform here."

Additionally, Common Cause New York has proposed a set of recommendations similar to the Presidential Commission on Election Administration, urging lawmakers to pass legislation in the 2017 legislative session to improve voting rights and the voter experience across the state:

· Modernize voter registration by making the process electronic and portable

· Shorten the deadline for registration to ten days before an election

· Allow pre-registration of voters aged 16 and 17 years

· Adopt a two-week period of early voting, including two weekends with sufficient public notice

· Transition to electronic poll books

· Revise ballots to make them more easily understandable to both poll workers and voters

· Upgrade poll worker recruitment, training, and standards to ensure effective poll site staffing

In his 2017 State of the State address, Governor Andrew Cuomo announced his own reforms to improve voting and election administration in New York. The Governor's proposal includes streamlining the voter registration process through state and local agencies, early voting up to 12 days before an election and same-day voter registration.