NYS Legislative Agenda: Reform and Modernize New York’s Voting System and Election Law

Reform and Modernize New York’s Voting System and Election Law

Voting Reform. Voter participation in New York has declined dramatically over the past half century and now stands near the bottom as compared to other states. New York has failed to take actions undertaken by other states to increase participation by making it less complicated to register to vote and to cast a ballot. The following reforms should be enacted to improve voter participation: (1) provide for early voting; (2) permit “no excuse” absentee voting; (3) establish a single primary day; (4); allow party registration up to 30 days before a primary election; (5) provide Election Day registration; (6) make Election Day a work holiday; (7) provide for felony re-enfranchisement; and (8) permit instant run-off voting in municipal elections.

Election Law Reform. The low rate of voter participation is also the result of an electoral system that heavily favors incumbents—giving them legislative control of the redistricting process, party control of the election mechanism, and restrictive ballot access for candidates. Coupled with weak campaign finance regulation, these factors make it exceptionally rare for an incumbent legislator to fail to get re-elected; many run without opposition in both the primary and general election.

  • Redistricting. New York took a meaningful but incomplete step toward reforming the redistricting process when it adopted a constitutional amendment on this subject, which voters approved in 2014. That provision, however, reserved to the Legislature the power to select members of the redistricting commission and to override its recommendations. The City Bar recommends tightening the existing provisions on redistricting by establishing a fully independent and non-partisan redistricting commission.
  • Board of Elections. The current Board of Elections consists of four members, two Democrats and two Republicans, and most Board employees involved in the registration and election process are chosen by those two parties. That structure was the result of a previous reform that has had the unfortunate result of creating a body that is virtually always at an impasse and, therefore, unable to act effectively. The two-party system for Board members and employees should be abolished and the Board should become a five-member, non-partisan board.
  • Public Campaign Financing. The City Bar supports establishing a system for public financing of elections, including public matching funds, to curb the influence of money in elections and help level the playing field for candidates. Additionally, campaign contribution limits should be significantly lowered, the LLC and soft money loopholes should be closed, and full public disclosure of sources for all campaign spending should be required.


Early voting – Signed by the Governor, Chp. 6 (January 24, 2019)

“No excuse” absentee voting – Constitutional amendment received first passage by the Legislature (January 14, 2019)

Single Primary – Signed by the Governor, Chp. 5 (January 24, 2019)

Party Registration Deadline Shortened – Signed by the Governor, Chp. 316 (September 26, 2019)

Election Day registration – Constitutional amendment received first passage by the Legislature (January 14, 2019)

Public Campaign Financing – Public Campaign Financing Commission established as part of the FY 2020 Enacted Budget