Commentary: On voting protections, New York has more work to do
By Lurie Daniel Favors, Esq. and Joanna Zdanys, Esq.
Times Union Op Ed | Jan 16, 2023
Across the country last year, election denialism, megadonor spending, and new restrictive voting laws showed the urgent need to shore up our democracy. In New York, our lawmakers addressed these problems head on by enacting a first-in-the-nation state voting rights act and launching the most robust public campaign financing program in the country. And just last week, the state Senate’s first order of business in the new session was passing key voting rights and board of election reforms.
But we can’t take these achievements for granted. While these reforms hold great promise, they need careful implementation and resources to succeed. As the new legislative session starts up, our leaders in Albany must keep strengthening New York’s democracy.
That’s why a coalition of 101 organizations — including the Center for Law and Social Justice at Medgar Evers College, the Brennan Center for Justice, and a range of labor, racial justice and voting rights groups — have urged our state’s leaders to continue their commitment to our state’s democracy this session.
That commitment starts with building on the promise of the new John R. Lewis Voting Rights Act of New York. The new law makes our state a national leader in fighting race-based voter suppression. This year, lawmakers must enact companion legislation creating a public statewide voting and elections database, which the Senate passed last week. This resource will foster data-driven decision-making and promote more equitable voting access statewide. The budget must include funding to support these reforms.
Lawmakers must also provide resources to implement the state’s new voter registration deadline of ten days before Election Day. The new deadline will enable one “golden day” of same-day registration on the first day of early voting. Nearly half of U.S. states already allow voters to register at the polls. Same-day registration would increase New Yorkers’ opportunity to vote and help improve the state’s persistently low voter turnout rates.
To secure these gains, our leaders must also enact the board of elections reform package, the bulk of which the Senate now has passed twice. Our state’s elections agencies operate without adequate oversight, lack basic hiring standards, and suffer chronic underfunding. These problems contribute to persistent administrative failures that undermine public faith in elections. This package would enact common-sense, national best practices to strengthen leadership, training, and accountability at our local boards. Along with these reforms, lawmakers must provide dedicated funding for local election administration.
Our leaders must also fully fund the implementation of small-donor public financing. This voluntary new program is the nation’s most powerful counter to unfettered wealth in our elections. The upcoming budget must include the $114.5 million that the Public Campaign Finance Board has requested to run the program. It’s a modest but meaningful investment in a democracy that works better for all New Yorkers.
The budget must also include sufficient resources to implement automatic voter registration, which goes into effect this month. If properly implemented, it could add as many as 1.1 million eligible New Yorkers to the voter rolls, helping diminish a significant barrier to the franchise.
In just a few years New York has become a national champion of democracy and secured real gains for the state’s voters, but there’s much more to be done. Gov. Kathy Hochul and state lawmakers must recommit to building a stronger, fairer, and more inclusive democracy for all.
Lurie Daniel Favors is executive director of the Center for Law and Social Justice at Medgar Evers College. Joanna Zdanys is counsel in the Elections and Government Program at the Brennan Center for Justice at NYU Law.
Lurie Daniel Favors and Joanna Zhanys