New York lawmakers from both parties decided on Monday to reject redistricting maps proposed by what has been billed as an independent commission, created as a ‘reform’ of a process that was previously in the hands of the Legislative Assembly .
The likely result: Lawmakers may soon be able to draw their own legislative districts and those of their colleagues in the House of Representatives. Adjacent to all of this, the state Senate has proposed bills intended to expand access to voting and ballots.
The state is not immune to increasingly contentious issues surrounding voting and redistricting, issues that could ultimately decide where power lies in the nation as a whole.
The package of bills backed by the Democratic-led Senate included extending no-apology mail-in voting for school board elections and general elections. College campuses would be required to have polling stations. And people who show up at the wrong polling place could vote by affidavit and have it count.
“He has a lot of things that people will be able to benefit from and voters will be happy to have,” said Susan Lerner, executive director of Common Cause.
The voting bills are the latest example of how Democratic lawmakers in New York are moving toward laws meant to expand ballot access.
For advocates like Common Cause executive director Susan Lerner, New York has lagged in the past in expanding ballot access. Early voting was only implemented two years ago after Democrats took control of the state Senate.
“There have been some really significant reforms over the past few years that make voting much more accessible to New Yorkers,” Lerner said. “But it’s still ironic that the kind of voter suppression we’re seeing in states like Texas is a rollback of reforms that we don’t even have here in New York yet.”
But some election officials in New York are less supportive of the recent changes. Republican state election commissioner Peter Kosinski questioned the new measures that allow third parties to request mail-in ballots for voters, arguing that it could help breed fraud.
“We think this decrease in transparency is bad for the election,” said Peter Kosinski, the Republican commissioner for the state Board of Elections. “We believe elections are best when they are open and transparent to the public.”
And Kosinski questioned the enactment of the law to have mail-in ballots counted before Election Day – a move that was approved and intended to remedy what has been in some high-profile races a chore counting of votes long after polling day. But doing that count after Election Day, Kosinski said, is important to ensure accuracy and integrity.
“It gives people more confidence that the vote was true and accurate,” Kosinski said. “We’ve had cases where they go to court and challenge, but that’s just another check on the system.”
In November, voters rejected ballot measures to create no-excuse mail-in voting and allow same-day registration. Common Cause’s Lerner blamed a well-funded opposition for the measures.
“I think what we saw in November was the result of a million dollars or more poured in to confuse voters,” she said. “When you talk to the majority of voters, what you find is that they want access to the ballot boxes.”