Gov. Cuomo unveils proposals to speed up elections as part of 2021 State of State address

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ALBANY — Gov. Andrew Cuomo will include a package of voting reform proposals aimed at streamlining the use of mail-in ballots in his 2021 State of the State address Monday.

The measures aim at speeding up the election process, including accelerating the counting of votes on the local level, extending the time registered voters can request an absentee ballot and expanding early voting hours. 

As he announced the proposal, Cuomo alluded to the actions of President Trump, who spent weeks falsely claiming the 2020 presidential election was rigged — including at a rally held shortly before a riot Wednesday by his supporters at the US Capitol.

“At a time when the Trump administration seeks to strip Americans of their voting rights, we did see a lot of concern through the election time, and we want New York to be a champion of democratic reforms,” Cuomo told reporters during a virtual press conference Friday from Albany.

“I’m going to propose legislation to speed up the counting by requiring county boards to process absentee ballots as soon as they’re received and begin counting and reporting them on election day.”

Attempting to curb long lines and further coronavirus spread, Cuomo issued an executive order last spring allowing New Yorkers to use COVID-19 as a viable excuse to request a mail-in ballot.

The move aligned with several other states that also green-lighted loosened laws on absentee ballot requests — resulting in the eventual overwhelming of the US Postal Service.

Democrats largely embraced the use of mail-in ballots during the pandemic so voters had another opportunity to vote safely during the coronavirus pandemic.

But President Donald Trump claimed massive reliance of mail-in voting would be more subject to fraud and urged Republicans to vote in person on Election Day.

Cuomo’s proposal would authorize individual county boards of elections to process absentee ballots as they are received, and to start counting and reporting those ballots on Election Day — instead of waiting for the polls to close, as stated under current law.

The move could potentially speed up a lengthy process, as right now all counties outside New York City must wait a week before they can begin opening up ballots and counting them.

For example, the still uncalled race in New York’s upstate 22nd congressional district between Rep. Anthony Brindisi and Claudia Tenney, has been stymied by a myriad of county BOE counting errors and disputed mail-in ballots. 

NYS Board of Elections co-chairman Doug Kellner said the two months delay in declaring a winner in the 22nd district pointed to the need to count ballots sooner. 

“It certainly highlighted the need to change the procedures to count the paper ballots sooner. We need to bring vote by mail procedures up to date,” Kellner said, adding that mail-in ballots should begin to be counted on Election Day. 

Cuomo’s additional proposals would extend the time voters can request absentee ballots from 30 to 45 days ahead of election day, and extend early voting hours statewide from ending at 6PM to 9PM on weekends as well as three additional weekdays.  

State Senate Majority Leader Mike Gianaris (D-Queens) — who has sponsored several measures to speed up voting over the last election cycle — agreed with the governor.

“As our Democratic supermajority continues to reform the way elections are run, fixing our latest-in-the-nation vote counting status will go a long way towards restoring faith in election results,” he said.

Cuomo also gave a preview to other proposals ahead of Monday such as:

  • an extension of the state’s moratorium on commercial evictions until May 1, as long as tenants have suffered financial hardship tied to COVID-19. 
  • a ban on all penalties for late or missed rent payments for tenants struggling to pay thanks to the pandemic 
  • the creation of a new Office to End Domestic and Gender-Based Violence and a new rule authorizing the courts to make domestic abusers pay damages including housing & moving costs

The governor already unveiled his support of several other measures, like mobile sports betting and legalizing recreational marijuana, in a bid to raise revenue for the state facing upwards of $63 billion revenue losses mainly tied to the pandemic.

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