(The Center Square) – New York state lawmakers this week have given majority support to a package of four bills that would ease election-related restrictions throughout 2021 in response to the pandemic.
During floor votes Feb. 9, the state Assembly passed all four bills, which touch on such issues as signature collections and term limits. The state Senate followed suit Feb. 10 with favorable votes on all but one of the bills.
Assembly Speaker Carl Heastie, D-Bronx, said the overarching goal behind the legislative package is to ensure the state’s elections are equitable and safe as COVID-19 mitigation measures continue alongside the race to offer widespread distribution of the vaccine.
“These bills will help make it safer for candidates, those conducting elections and for the people of New York to participate in the in the democratic process,” Heastie said in a news release. “The Assembly Majority will keep working to ensure our election laws allow New Yorkers to fully and safely participate in the electoral process.”
All four bills originated in the state Assembly before going to the Senate and were funneled through several panels before the floor votes.
Assemblywoman Latrice Walker, D-Brooklyn, chair of the Election Law Committee, said the legislation is a reflection of the sweeping changes COVID-19 has brought on people’s lives for most of the past year.
“We must also adjust election law to reflect the reality of living during a pandemic, and the need to maintain social distance while still keeping all necessary elements accessible and efficient,” Walker said in a statement. “These changes to petitioning and allowing virtual designations and nominations will help us do that.”
Assembly Bill A.4686 and Senate Bill S.04380 address candidates’ independent nomination petitions and cut the number of required signatures in half.
The overture, advocates say, is designed to limit potential exposure to the coronavirus while going door-to-door and campaigning. It passed the Assembly on a 144-4 vote and the Senate on a 48-15 vote.
Another bill related to the state’s petitioning process – A.4447 and S.04381 – amends New York’s opportunity to ballot petitioning process for gathering signatures and writing a person’s name in on a ballot.
The legislation, according to legislators, would also eliminate the need for a nine-day early voting period for a primary when only one candidate is on a ballot. The bill passed the Assembly on a 99-49 vote and the Senate on a 54-9 vote.
The third bill within the package – A.4357 and S.04382 – touches on county committees and gives members with expiring seats in 2021 the opportunity to hang onto them a bit longer. The provision again is aimed at reducing the need for door-to-door campaigning, advocates say.
The plan in motion calls for an election next year for the county-level seats, where candidates would fill one-year terms. The regular two-year cycle would resume in 2023. It passed the Assembly on a 143-5 vote and the Senate on a 61-2 vote.
The final of the quartet passed the Assembly, but remains in the hands of the Senate Elections Committee.
A.4364, which received a favorable 143-5 vote, permits the use of video conference technology for party designations and nominations related to elections in any election that is not a primary.
State Republican lawmakers in both branches of the Legislature have not publicly commented on the bills, some of which have received bipartisan support.