Election law changes take shape in Yates

John Christensen

The 2018 election which brought a Democratic majority to the New York State Senate also brought forward several long-stalled bills that will change the way elections are conducted. Over the summer, Yates County’s Election Commissioners, Robert Brechko and the late Amy Daines toured all the municipalities to give each board a report on what changes their constituent voters would see, as well as the potential impacts on costs to the county, towns, and villages. 

Early Voting

Chapter 6 of the election laws of 2019 provides for nine days of early voting in New York State, first applying to the Nov. 5 general election. Early Voting begins in October, allowing voters to cast their ballot early and have the ballots count as Election Day ballots rather than Absentee Ballots, which are counted after each election. This will apply to any primary, general, run-off primary, or special election held hereafter.  According to the state Board of Elections, $10 million will be available to county boards for reimbursement of costs related to early voting, subject to the approval of the State Division of Budget.

Daines and Brechko both feared this could have become a nightmare both in staffing and costs if the state had applied the same requirement for every polling station to be open in small, rural counties as they did to cities. The bill was amended to allow smaller counties to operate a single, central early voting site.

In Yates County, the official polling site for early voting has been established as the County Office Building, using the Clerk’s Closing Room near the County Clerk’s Office. There will be sample ballots and an informational table in the main lobby to the left of the front doors. This will allow Yates County elections staff to assist voters directly, with the assistance of electronic polling books and on-demand ballot printers received recently. The BOE just received the grant application to cover the costs for this year’s early voting, and will be applying for just under $22,000 for staffing and equipment.

Consolidation of Primary Elections

Elections boards all over the state have been advocating for consolidation of primary dates in the name of efficiency and potentially saving considerable money in the four-year election cycle. For Yates County, this will save around $30,000 per primary.

The state/local/federal primary dates have been consolidated to the fourth Tuesday in June. The 2019 Primary Election day was Tuesday, June 25. The 2020 primary date will be Tuesday, June 23. The Presidential primary will still be held the fourth Tuesday of April, the 28th in 2020.

Electronic Poll Books

County election officials will use E-poll books for maintenance of records at polling sites. The NYSBOE have set parameters on E-poll book requirements, and only systems approved by the NYSBOE are permitted. A state contract funded by $14.7 million in the budget, has been fulfilled, and the BOE received their E-Polling Books last week.

Transfer of Voter’s Registration & Enrollment

The E-polling books also will facilitate the new requirement for a person’s voter registration and party enrollment to move with them when they move within New York State.

Voter Pre-Registration

Current law requires that citizens are able to pre-register to vote at age 17 if they turn 18 by the end of the year. They can vote if they turn 18 on or before election day. The new law, effective Jan. 1, 2020, allows for the pre-registration of applicants at 16 years of age, though they will still only be eligible to vote at 18.

Time Off to Vote

This provides registered voters with three hours of paid leave to vote. This includes all public and private employees; and applies to all primary, special, and general elections for local, state, federal, and village elections. There is no requirement that employees prove they need the time to vote.

Campaign donations and loans

Limited Liability Companies (LLCs) are now subject to a $5,000 annual, aggregate giving limit. Disclosure of the identity of LLC interests is reported to NYSBOE.

Lobbyists, Political Action Committees, or Independent Expenditure interests are now prohibited from making loans to candidates or political committees.