New York still has a lot to do when it comes to electoral protection

Across the country last year, balloting, mega fundraising and new restrictive electoral laws demonstrated the urgent need to shore up our democracy. In New York, our legislators addressed these issues head-on by passing a first state voting rights law and initiating the most robust public campaign funding program in the country. And just last week, the state Senate’s first agenda item in the new session was to pass key voting rights and electoral board reforms.

But we cannot take these achievements for granted. While promising, these reforms require careful implementation and resources to succeed. As the new legislature begins, our leaders in Albany must continue to strengthen democracy in New York.

That’s why a coalition of 101 organizations — including the Center for Law and Social Justice at Medgar Evers College, the Brennan Center for Justice and a number of labor, racial justice and suffrage groups — have urged leaders to continue their engagement of our national democracy in this session.

That commitment begins by building on the promise of New York’s new John R. Lewis Voting Rights Act. The new law makes our state a national leader in the fight against race-based voter suppression. This year, lawmakers must pass accompanying legislation creating a public statewide voting and election database, which the Senate passed last week. This resource will advance data-driven decision-making and promote fairer voting access across the state. The budget must include funds to support these reforms.

Lawmakers must also allocate resources to implement the state’s new voter registration deadline of ten days before Election Day. The new deadline allows for a same-day “golden day” of registration on the first day of early voting. Almost half of US states already allow voters to register at the ballot box. Same-day registration would increase New Yorkers’ voting options and help improve the state’s persistently low voter turnout.

To secure these gains, our leaders must also pass the Electoral Board reform package, most of which the Senate has now passed twice. Our state’s electoral service operates without proper oversight, lacks basic hiring standards, and is chronically underfunded. These problems contribute to persistent administrative failures that undermine public confidence in elections. This package would enact sound national best practices to strengthen leadership, training and accountability in our local bodies. In addition to these reforms, the legislature must allocate special funds to the local electoral administration.

Our leaders must also fully fund the implementation of public funding from small donors. This voluntary new program is the nation’s strongest opposition to unfettered wealth in our elections. The upcoming budget must include the $114.5 million requested by the Public Campaign Finance Board to run the program. It’s a modest but wise investment in a democracy that works better for all New Yorkers.

The budget must also include sufficient funds to implement automatic voter registration, which goes into effect this month. If implemented properly, up to 1.1 million eligible New Yorkers could be included on the electoral rolls, which would help remove a significant barrier to voting rights.

In just a few short years, New York has become a national champion of democracy and has brought real gains to the state’s voters, but there is much more work to be done. Governor Kathy Hochul and state legislators must recommit to building a stronger, fairer and more inclusive democracy for all.

Lurie Daniel Favors is Executive Director of the Center for Law and Social Justice at Medgar Evers College. Joanna Zdanys is an Advisor in the Election and Government Program at NYU Law’s Brennan Center for Justice.