Election Law Reforms Called Overdue In New York

Saying that elections in New York "should be more open, accessible and fair to voters, candidates and the public," Attorney General Spitzer today called for an overhaul of the election system.

The Attorney General's comments came as the Electoral College convened in state capitols across the nation. In Albany, Spitzer was one of 33 electors preparing to cast official ballots in the 2000 presidential race.

"We must do everything we can to make it as easy as possible for people to vote and to have their ballots count. In addition, we must remove unnecessary obstacles that exist for those who want to run for office, " Spitzer said.

"New York does not have the same magnitude of problems revealed recently in Florida, but our state is definitely overdue in reforming its election system. These common-sense measures will help expand voter participation, reinvigorate government institutions and strengthen our democracy."

Spitzer's proposals include the following:

  • Permit Election Day Voter Registration

Currently, six states permit same-day registration, and four of them-- Minnesota, Maine,Wisconsin, and New Hampshire-- were among the top five states for voter turnout in this year's presidential election. New York law requires voters to register 25 days before an election. To address concerns of voter fraud, Spitzer's proposal will include standards for the establishment of identification, age, residency, and keeping ballots cast by election day registrants separate from other ballots. State resources should be made available so that any additional costs are not borne by local governments.

  • Reduce New York's Hyper-Technical Ballot Access Measures

More than two thirds of the states that held presidential primaries this year did not require the gathering of even one signature for candidates to appear on their ballot. In New York, not only are a large number of signatures required for statewide and federal office, but candidates' petitions have been thrown out for such technical violations as having misnumbered pages or voters listing the village that they live in instead of their town.

  • Improve the Voting Infrastructure

Currently, many voting machines in New York are more than 30 years old and susceptible to breakdowns and other malfunctions. Election law should be amended giving the State Board of Elections the ability to test more accurate and dependable voting machinery. Voting machines in New York should be updated and poll watchers should be adequately trained and compensated. Money must be included in the state budget for local governments to pay for these improvements.

  • Create an Electronic, Accessible Statewide Registration List

The State Board of Elections does not maintain a current, accessible statewide list of registered voters. Such a list would make it easier to detect voters trying to vote in multiple counties, thereby helping to prevent fraud. Such a list would ensure the legitimacy of recently registered voters, and would aid local election boards in keeping their rolls accurate and up to date.

  • Eliminate the Requirement that Overseas Military Ballots be Postmarked.

New York law requires that all absentee ballots - including military ballots - have postmarks. As the recent recount in Florida showed however, many military ballots are not postmarked. State law should be changed to accept military ballots received within seven days of election day without a postmark provided that the servicemen and women affirm that they voted on or before election day.

Spitzer plans to formally submit his reform package to the State Legislature next month.