Better Democracy in the New York State 2019 Legislative Session

The top priority of NY Indivisibles (based on our survey of Indivisibles around the state) is democracy reform. While obstructionist Republicans stall H.R. 1, which would protect democracy nationwide on the federal level, there’s plenty that we can accomplish in New York State. The Independent Democratic Caucus (IDC) was all but destroyed by constituent activism and people’s determination to see a #TrueBlueNY. Now the next phase begins: we’re bringing voting rights in New York into the 21st century.

The state legislature kicked off their session on January 14. On day one, we saw the actualization of years of nonstop pressure: many pieces of the Let NY Vote campaign package were introduced and passed, bringing about dramatic democratic reforms.

New Yorkers will now have access to:

  • In-person early voting up to 10 days before an election

  • Consolidated state and federal primaries

  • Pre-registration for 16 and 17 year olds

  • Constitutional amendments to allow same-day registration and voting by mail

Passing these voting reforms on the first day of the 2019 legislative session sent a strong and clear message: we won’t accept anything but full modernization of New York’s elections.

Democracy Reform isn’t over in NY!

While major reforms were passed on day one, the fight isn’t over yet. There are several pieces of the Let NY Vote package that have not passed yet:

  • Automatic voter registration (S 1278)

  • Voting rights restoration for people on parole (A4987/S 1931)

  • Direct funding for early voting in the state budget, so counties will be able to implement 10 days of in-person voting before elections

  • Flexibility to change party affiliation, so that people can vote in primaries without registering their party months in advance (no standalone bill; provision is contained in S 1278 to change deadline to 25 days before primary)

And while we’ve passed early voting, Governor Cuomo’s Executive Budget doesn’t include itwhich would leave counties holding the bill for its implementation. To make sure early voting truly comes to New York State, counties need state funding support.

Indivisibles are also working in partnership with the Fair Elections NY campaign to promote comprehensive campaign finance reform to restore balance to New York’s political process, which currently favors the wealthy and far too often ignores everyday New Yorkers.

The Fair Elections NY effort seeks to implement a small donor matching system for state elections. Matching small dollar donations 6-to-1 would provide critical financial support to those who often feel like they can’t afford to run. As a result, women, people of color, people in the working and middle classes, and other underrepresented New Yorkers will have more access to participate in the political process.

And while all this great progress is being made, we’re fighting on defense too: Governor Cuomo has proposed lowering the lobbying expenditure threshold from $5,000 to $500. That means that Indivisibles and other grassroots activists who spend more than $500 a year fighting for their communities would have to register as lobbyists, which comes with a registration fee and onerous reporting requirements. This is a clear attack on the grassroots, masked as a solution to big money influence in Albany. 

How We Win

State of play

The remaining better democracy initiatives will not pass without constituent action. After enacting a large part of the Let NY Vote package on day 1, there is a real danger that legislators will feel their jobs are done and turn their attention to other issues. This is especially true since the remaining legislation, especially small donor matching, is politically complex and not supported by all our leaders in Albany.

Automatic voter registration, voting rights for people on parole, and flexibility to change parties currently have bills in the Senate, and we are hoping to see movement on these issues in the Assembly soon. They may receive committee hearings—which are typically private—before heading to the floor for a vote.

Right now, we're focusing our fight on the budget, which must be final by April 1. Small donor matching will be enacted through the budget—it’s common in New York State that significant policy is created in the budget process. Governor Cuomo, the Assembly, and the Senate will all create separate budgets and negotiate; for this reason, it’s essential that all of our elected officials know small donor matching must make it into the budget. This is also where we can advocate for funding for early voting.

Governor Cuomo’s lobbying limit change is also in the state budget. Because he supports this measure, we will need to focus our pressure on Assemblymembers and Senators, especially Assembly Speaker Heastie and Senate Majority Leader Andrea Stewart-Cousins, to make sure that they do not let Cuomo sneak this attack into New York State’s final budget. 

For more information on how the New York State Legislature works, check out our Indivisible Guide to the New York State Legislature.

What you can do

  • Call your representatives and tell them that you support these better democracy reforms. Our call script is below.

    • Call Governor Cuomo: (518) 474-8390

    • Call the Assembly switchboard to be connected to your Assemblymember: 518-455-2800

    • Call the Senate switchboard to be connected to your Senator: 518-455-4218

  • Join the February 27 Fair Elections lobby day. We need to show up and make noise—our elected officials need to know that constituents from around the state support campaign finance reform! You can sign up here.

  • Keep the pressure on by making in-district lobby visits, writing op-eds and letters to the editor, and organizing group call drives.

    • If you attend an in-district visit, please record it here.

Call Script

For Senators & Assemblymembers

Hi, my name is <YOUR NAME> and I am from <YOUR TOWN>. I'm calling to to ask Senator/Assemblymember <NAME> to make sure that small donor matching and funding for early voting make it into both your one-house and final budgets. I also strongly oppose lowering the lobbying expenditure threshold to $500 and would like to ask Senator/Assemblymember <NAME> to oppose this change. Can I count on Senator/Assemblymember <NAME> to support funding for early voting and small donor matching, and oppose changes to the lobbying expenditure threshold, in the budget? 

Additional Resources