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Protect & Strengthen Democracy

An Early, Easy Way to Vote

While the Trump regime and states across the country continue campaigns to undermine Americans’ most fundamental right, New York is expanding it, making voting easier and more efficient for all who are eligible to cast a ballot.

On the first day of the January 2019 legislative session, after years of advocacy from the NYCLU, our ally organization partners, and the civil liberties majority, lawmakers passed reforms to update our state’s antiquated voting laws, setting the tone for other voting rights gains throughout the year and helping modernize our system. Among our gains:

  • We now have nine days of early voting, making participation in elections more convenient for voters who have work, family obligations, health issues, transportation barriers, and other obstacles that keep them from the polls.
  • We now have increased access to electronic poll books, reducing wait times and easing logistical burdens for poll workers. Paper poll books required a substantial amount of time and money to print, and they are often riddled with errors that left eligible voters off the rolls.
  • We took steps toward automatic voter registration, as 16- and 17-year-olds are now able to pre-register to vote and will be automatically registered on their 18th birthdays. The NYCLU continues to advocate that lawmakers enact opt-out automatic voter registration through state agencies like the Department of Motor Vehicles and the Department of Health — an effective way to boost our dismal registration rate.
  • Lawmakers also gave first passage to two constitutional amendments: same-day voter registration and “no-excuse” absentee voting. These measures would allow New Yorkers to register to vote and cast a ballot on the same day, as well as allow registered voters to receive an absentee ballot without providing a reason. Both measures must pass another legislative session before they are put before voters to accept or reject.

November’s general election offered an opportunity to test the new early voting system ahead of a national election, and there’s work to be done: NYC’s Board of Elections system favored white voters by providing too few polling locations in majority-minority boroughs and mandating that voters cast ballots early only at specific polling locations. For example, Rensselaer County’s failure to open an early voting site in Troy, the county’s largest city, likely discouraged early voting. We continue public education campaigns to ensure voters across the state know their rights when voting early and on election day.

Photo: For decades, getting an “I Voted” sticker has been a challenge in New York, where voters faced unnecessary barriers to voting, like a needlessly early registration cutoff, limited ways to vote prior to an election, long lines at polls, and inaccurate paper poll books. The end result: New York has some of the country’s lowest voter registration and turnout rates. Thanks to NYCLU’s ongoing advocacy, that is about to change.

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Ahead of the 2020 elections and in light of COVID-19, the NYCLU is advocating for full access to vote-by-mail and continues to pressure counties to implement early voting equitably. Read our letter urging officials to respect New Yorkers’ right to vote safely.