New York State Assemblyman Fred W. Thiele, Jr. stands behind a pair of bills recently introduced in the Assembly to institute early voting in New York State and require independent expenditures to be subject to state disclosure rules enabling voters to learn the source of money being spent on behalf of candidates.
“As someone who has always supported election reform, I stand behind these two bills as a co-sponsor because we need to ensure fair elections and encourage increased voter participation,” said Thiele, a member of the Assembly Election Law Committee.
According to his office, experts estimate that voter participation in New York State in November 2012 was barely 46 percent with voter turnout only exceeding two other states. In order to encourage more voter participation and decrease waits and lines at polling places, this bill will institute early voting for all general, primary, and special elections in New York. If enacted, New York would join 32 other states and the District of Columbia that already permit an alternative to in-person voting on election days. Voters would be permitted to vote at designated locations beginning 14 days prior to any general election and seven days prior to any primary or special election.
Under the bill, each County Board of Elections and the Board of Elections of the City of New York must designate at least five polling places for voters to cast an early ballot. Polls will be open from 8 a.m. to 7 p.m. each day during the early voting period, including Saturdays and Sundays, and ballots cast during the early voting period will be counted at the close of the polls on Election Day and included in the election night tally.
Over the past several years, New York has witnessed the increased activity of third-party campaign communications that expressly advocate for the election or defeat of a clearly identified candidate or ballot measure.
Because these communication and advocacy efforts do not explicitly originate from a candidate, campaign or political party, it is often difficult for the average voter to determine the source of the message.
Thiele said legislation has been introduced to ensure that entities engaged in express advocacy of candidates are subject to the same registration and disclosure provisions that are now required of candidates and their campaigns. Under current law, New York requires financial disclosure only for organizations engaging in election-related communications, which advocate for or against candidates using specific language.
The current structure allows corporations, industry groups, wealthy activists, unions and other special interests to participate directly in campaigns through unlimited independent expenditures so long as they define themselves as issue advocates and do not use certain words.
All campaign committees would be required to register with the New York State Board of Elections and file associated financial disclosure reports under this new legislation, said Thiele.