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New York is poised to address the ‘whatabout New York’ response to voting restrictions

Twins Amir, right, and Milo Klatzkin, 3, put on their “I Voted” stickers after their father Barry Klatzkin, left, voted at a polling site in New York in November 2019. (Seth Wenig/AP)
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It was everywhere this spring: What about New York?

Oh, you’re mad about Georgia’s new restrictions on voting in the state? Well, what about New York, Georgia’s Republican governor said. Oh, you think Texas’s proposal to limit voting is too stringent? Well, what about New York, Texas’s Republican lieutenant governor said. Oh, you don’t like the post-2020 push to make it more cumbersome to vote in various states? Well maybe you should do something about deep blue New York.

The thing about that response was that critics had a point, even if an overstated one. While there’s a difference between making voting harder and not making voting easier, it was true that New York’s process for registering to vote and for requesting to vote by absentee ballot were unusually restrictive. Will Cain, weekend host of “Fox & Friends” on Fox News, showed a visual from the network comparing what the Georgia law would do with what the New York law already did.

This is the liberal ideal?

Most New Yorkers understood that things in the state were not ideal, as surely as they recognized that the travails of Gov. Andrew M. Cuomo (D) were a reflection of endemic problems in governance and not some sort of outlier. And each recognition led to unexpected responses. Cuomo resigned. And the state legislature approved two constitutional amendments that would make it easier to register to vote and to cast an absentee ballot.

Those amendments are two of five on Tuesday’s ballot. Proposal 3 would allow the state legislature to pass a law allowing same-day voter registration. Proposal 4 would allow voters to request an absentee ballot without having to provide an excuse. They wouldn’t check off every item on Cain’s list, but they’d tackle some of the issues.

The push to include those reforms on the ballot predated the fights over new laws in Georgia and Texas, though the state legislature only cleared them for the ballot in May. In the meantime, state legislators passed other laws making it easier to cast an absentee ballot, a reflection both of the national debate and of the changes made to accommodate the coronavirus pandemic last year.

Of course, the proposals need to be approved by voters before New York can start lording its somewhat-increased ease of voting over redder states. There hasn’t been much polling on either measure, though surveys from Siena College indicated majority support in June. (Each needs only a majority of votes to be implemented.) Republicans have argued that the measures would make voting more complex, something that has in fact proved to be a challenge for elections officials in the state in the past. Such complaints are unlikely to carry the day in the heavily Democratic state, however.

What’s been interesting to observe (as a resident of New York) is how little the we-must-combat-fraud argument has been deployed. Some Staten Island Republicans (a somewhat redundant descriptor) argued that the initiatives were an effort by Democrats “to legalize rigged elections,” as one put it. The state party hinted at it on social media. But that rationale, central to the efforts to constrain voting elsewhere, otherwise hasn’t cropped up much.

What’s likely, then, is that by early Wednesday morning, New York will have shifted its election laws to make them less restrictive. If the complaint from Georgians and Texans in April was that New Yorkers needed to worry about their own problems, they might consider that complaint heard.

Update: Or not! Each of the initiatives above was rejected by voters in the state. This is likely in large part a function of depressed turnout in New York City, where the outcome of the mayor’s race was a foregone conclusion. New York is a heavily Democratic state — when New York Democrats turn out to vote heavily.

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