As New York Makes Long-Awaited Election Improvements, Republicans Fight Back

Photo by: GWR/STAR MAX/IPx 2022 11/5/22 New Yorkers in Kew Gardens, Queens come out to vote early before Tuesday's final Election Day when the state governor's election will be decided.

Last month, New York Democrats put their trifecta to work when Gov. Kathy Hochul (D) signed a slate of 10 voting laws aimed at improving the state’s outdated election rules, but the much-needed improvements didn’t go unnoticed, especially by the GOP. After Democrats enacted the Early Mail Voter Act, Republicans immediately filed a lawsuit against the law — the second GOP challenge to a New York mail-in voting in less than a month.

On Friday, the Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee (DCCC), New York congressional Democrats — including U.S. Sen. Kirsten Gillibrand and Reps. Yvette Clarke,  Ritchie Torres, Joseph Morelle and Grace Meng — and voters filed a motion to intervene in the most recent Republican lawsuit, stepping in once again to defend the state’s much-needed voting laws. This comes just weeks after the DCCC and Democrats similarly stepped in to defend a 2021 mail-in voting law from a GOP lawsuit that seeks to block the pro-voting law before 2024. 

These lawsuits over the state’s mail-in voting procedures are part of a broader and ever-changing landscape that has put New York in the spotlight as a lawsuit about the state’s congressional map is before the state’s highest court and control of the U.S. House of Representatives could hang in the balance. 

After the 2022 midterm elections, when Republicans flipped multiple congressional seats in New York, which granted them their slim five-seat majority, all eyes turned to the Empire State as a harbinger of what could change before 2024. 

New York has long been criticized for having mediocre-to-bad election policies, especially for a blue state with complete Democratic control.

While New York is often seen as a bastion of progressive politics due to its enduring Democratic trifectas, the state’s laws and processes around voting and elections have been lackluster. In fact, New York has bad voting laws, too. From a 2020 New York City primary meltdown and astronomical mail-in ballot rejection rates, to long lines at polling locations and an old line-warming ban, New York elections desperately need reform

But it’s not all bad; After the governorship shifted and Democrats clinched supermajorities in the Legislature in 2021, New York has been making a conscious and progressive effort toward expanding voting access and improving representation across the state. 

In 2022, New York passed its own state-level Voting Rights Act, which is already being used to fight for more Latino representation in Sleepy Hollow, a suburb just north of New York City. Despite this progress, major voting reforms, particularly related to election administration, are long overdue in the Empire State — and this month, state lawmakers and Hochul heeded that call.

Last week, New York Democrats enacted a package of voting laws that will improve access to the ballot box and democracy within the state. 

On Sept. 20, Hochul signed an impressive package of 10 laws — some substantial and some administrative — that will expand voting rights and improve democracy in the state. 

The laws will:

  • Permit voters to vote by mail during the early voting period (also called the Early Mail Voter Act),
  • Implement same-day voter registration on the first day of early voting,
  • Require schools to adopt policies to educate prospective voters before they turn 18,
  • Mandate that local correctional facilities share voting information to people upon release,
  • Crackdown on faithless electors by requiring presidential electors to vote for the candidates nominated by their party,
  • Amend curing standards so that voters do not have to fix their ballots if the envelopes are sealed with tape, paste or any other binding agent and have no indication of tampering,
  • Prohibit forum shopping by limiting the legal venues in which election law challenges can be brought, 
  • Require state boards of election to develop and provide a training curriculum for poll workers , 
  • Establish a 48-hour deadline to change early voting polling locations unless there is a disaster or state of emergency and
  • Schedule the presidential primary for April 2, 2024. 

Of course, the anti-voting Republican party will not stand idly by while New York improves access to the ballot box. 

On the very same day that Hochul signed the 10-bill package into law, the Republican National Committee, the National Republican Congressional Committee and other Republicans filed a lawsuit seeking to block the Early Mail Voter Act. 

Prior to the passage of the New York Early Mail Voter Act, voters could only vote absentee if they were going to be absent from their county or city or if the voter could not vote in person due to an illness or a physical disability. 

The GOP plaintiffs argue that the new mail-in voting law violates the New York Constitution because the state constitution enumerates two classes of voters who can vote using absentee ballots and now, the new law applies to voters outside of those two groups. They also point to the fact that in 2021, voters rejected a constitutional amendment proposed by the Legislature —which would have allowed no-excuse absentee voting — to argue that the new law was implemented while “ignoring and subverting the will of the People.” Just hours after the law’s enactment, Republicans asked the court to strike it down. 

The recent law isn’t the only mail-in voting challenge launched by New York Republicans. At the end of August, Republicans had filed a different lawsuit — after previously losing a nearly identical challenge last year — seeking to block another mail-in voting law, Assembly Bill 7931. Signed in 2021, the law allows for the review of absentee ballots on a rolling basis, requires voters who request an absentee ballot but decide to vote in-person to vote using a provisional ballot and prevents legal challenges to already cast absentee ballots. The GOP is also asking the court to block this law for the 2024 elections. 

Now, as Republicans try to undo the state’s much-needed voting reforms, Democrats have stepped in to defend these laws. 

On Sept. 18, the DCCC, Gillibrand, Rep. Paul Tonko (D-N.Y.), and a voter filed a motion to intervene in Republicans’ second attempt to challenge the 2021 absentee ballot rules arguing that the GOP’s claims are “baseless.” 

In response to the GOP’s claims, the proposed Democratic intervenors argue that the GOP challenge “fails on the merits for several reasons, not least of which is that it ignores the broad authority of the Legislature to prescribe the method of voting in New York pursuant to Article II, Section 7 of the New York Constitution.” 

Over the next several months, there will be a lot of movement in lawsuits that will determine how New Yorkers vote, have their votes counted and are represented in 2024. 

This fall, New York courts are busy with hearings and oral argument in both mail-in voting lawsuits and in the highly consequential, ongoing congressional redistricting case.   

On Oct. 5, there will be a hearing in the lawsuit over the 2021 absentee rules, which will determine if Republicans’ challenge to A.B. 7931 will proceed and if the law will be temporarily blocked. 

A week later, on Oct. 13, there will be a hearing to determine if the New York Early Mail Voter Act will be temporarily blocked. 

Finally, on Nov. 15, there will be oral argument in New York’s highest court that will determine if the independent redistricting commission must reconvene to draw a new congressional map for 2024. 

As we head into 2024, the spotlight is of course always on high-profile swing states, but the spotlight should be on New York, too. New York demonstrates the excruciating uphill battle for pro-voting laws, not just in swing states, but in blue states, too. When Democrats pass laws that will expand access to the ballot box, Republicans don’t hesitate — sometimes not even for a day — to step in to block them. Even in the bluest of bubbles, New York is a reminder that in courtrooms across the country, democracy is on the docket.