Albany judge OKs law allowing more New Yorkers to vote early by mail

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NEW YORK — A state judge on Monday upheld a law expanding New York’s early voting period to allow widespread balloting by mail, ruling against Republicans who argued the measure was unconstitutional.

Justice Christina Ryba of Albany Supreme Court said in a brief but forceful order that the state Legislature has broad discretion to implement election procedures, and that a GOP-led lawsuit challenging the early voting expansion had failed to show that the new rules violate the state Constitution.

Republicans quickly signaled they would appeal the decision. Under the law, all registered voters are allowed to apply for an early mail-in ballot.

New York has lagged behind other states in expanding mail-in vote options in the early voting period. But last year, Gov. Kathy Hochul, a Democrat, approved a plan to expand the state’s mail-in voting regime beyond absentee ballots, which are limited to a select group of New Yorkers, including people who are ill or abroad.

About 35 states offered expansive mail-in vote options before New York, according to the nonprofit Institute for Responsive Government. Signing the law in September, Hochul expressed disappointment that New York was not at the forefront of mail-in voting access, but declared, “We’re going to right the wrong of the past.”

The GOP framed the move as a step away from election security and promptly filed the lawsuit.

The complaint cited Article 2 of the state Constitution, which says the Legislature can create an absentee balloting path for voters who are not able to vote on Election Day.

Ryba wrote that Article 2 contains “no express language” that requires voters to cast ballots at polling sites on Election Day or that bars lawmakers from expanding voting by mail.

“The mere fact that the framers specifically authorized the Legislature to establish a different voting method for a specific category of voters does not necessarily signify their intent to restrict the Legislature’s power to establish alternative voting methods for other voters,” the judge wrote in her 11-page decision.

The law expanding early voting took effect at the start of the year, and applies to all primary and general elections. Mail-in ballots are available in this month’s special elections, according to the state Board of Elections.

In a statement, Hochul said the ruling cements a program that will improve voter turnout and expand a “sacred” right.

“Despite the best efforts of its opponents, democracy has once again prevailed in New York,” the governor added.

Rep. Elise Stefanik, a Trump-aligned upstate Republican and plaintiff in the lawsuit, claimed in the summer that Democrats were working to upend New York’s election integrity. “Under Kathy Hochul’s failed leadership, elections are less secure and less transparent,” she argued in a September statement.

Stefanik voted to overturn the 2020 presidential election won by President Joe Biden.

On Monday, Stefanik and the chair of the New York Republican Party, Edward Cox, vowed to appeal the state Supreme Court decision. “We strongly disagree with the court’s decision and believe our position will be upheld on appeal,” Cox said in a statement.

State Sen. Michael Gianaris of Queens, the Democratic deputy majority leader and lead sponsor of the law expanding early voting, has said Republicans are attempting to limit democracy in New York.

“I’m glad to see the anti-democracy crowd take one on the chin,” Gianaris wrote in a text after the ruling Monday. “Those who oppose making it easier for eligible people to vote because it hurts their electoral prospects represent an especially evil brand of cynical politics.”