NY lawmakers first order of business: approve voting-related bills, reject redistricting maps

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ALBANY — Lawmakers started the new year with a thumbs down for redistricting maps and made election-related bills their top priority Monday as the legislative session got underway.

Democrats in the State Senate approved a package of election and voting measures that included provisions expanding voting on college campuses, allowing absentee ballot drop boxes and continuing pandemic rules related to mail-in votes.

Since winning control of the upper chamber in 2018, Dems have made voting reforms a priority early on each session, countering efforts by Republicans to restrict access to the polls in many other states.

“Our work on voting reform will never be finished because we can always do more to liberate the process, to empower people and to make them understand that again this franchise is the cornerstone of our democracy,” Senate Majority Leader Andrea Stewart-Cousins (D-Yonkers) said, also noting the difficulty Democrats have faced in Washington as they attempt to pass voting rights legislation.

Democrats in D.C. are considering easing filibuster rules in order to pass a long-stalled voting, ethics and elections package.

The package of 10 bills approved Monday include measures allowing absentee ballots to be used for anyone concerned about COVID, prohibiting corporate contributions from foreign companies and allowing polling sites on college campuses under certain circumstances.

Another bill, sponsored by Sen. Brad Hoylman (D-Manhattan), allows local boards of elections to establish absentee ballot drop-off boxes. All of the bills must be approved by the Assembly before being sent to Gov. Hochul’s desk for her signature.

In recent years, Democrats in New York have approved a host of popular changes at polling sites including the establishment of early voting and the consolidation of federal and state primaries.

However, in November, voters rejected constitutional amendments that would have allowed for no-excuse absentee voting as well as an end to the 10-day voter registration requirement.

Lawmakers in both chambers used their first full day of session Monday to formally reject redistricting maps drawn up by an independent commission meant to take the politics out of the complicated process.

Republicans and Democrats shot down competing sets of maps sent over by the gridlocked commission following months of meetings, giving the panel a second chance to draw up lines for state and congressional districts.

If lawmakers rejects the next set of submissions, the Legislature, fully controlled by Democrats, get to determine the maps before sending them to Hochul’s desk.

New York’s June primary means maps need to be approved and in place soon in order for candidates to begin canvassing and collecting signatures to get on the ballot.

Stewart-Cousins said she remains confident that new district lines will be drawn up and approved with plenty of time.

“We’re happy to follow the process and see what it produces,” she said. “I believe that things are moving at a pace so that we will be able to meet our specific deadlines so that the primary would take place.”

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