Voters in New York will decide constitutional amendments at the election on November 2, 2021, to authorize no-excuse absentee voting and same-day voter registration. Currently, the state constitution requires voters to be absent from their county of residence, ill, or physically disabled to vote with an absentee ballot. It also requires that persons must register to vote at least ten days before an election, thus prohibiting same-day voter registration.
To refer constitutional amendments to the ballot, the New York State Legislature must approve them by a simple majority vote in each chamber during two successive legislative sessions with an election for state legislators in between. Both of the constitutional amendments were previously approved in 2019. On January 11, 2021, the state Senate voted 50 to 13 to pass the no-excuse absentee voting amendment. Democrats, along with seven Republicans, voted in favor of the proposal. Thirteen Republicans voted against the proposal. On January 12, the Senate voted 42 to 20 to pass the same-day voter registration amendment. Democrats supported the proposal, and Republicans opposed the proposal. On May 11, 2021, the state Assembly voted to pass both constitutional amendments, sending them to the ballot for voter consideration.
As of April 2021, 20 states and D.C. allow for same-day voter registration, including neighboring Connecticut and Vermont. New York is one of 16 states that require an excuse to receive an absentee ballot. Thirty-four states and D.C. provide for no-excuse absentee voting (or provide every voter with a mail-in ballot), meaning any voter can apply to receive an absentee ballot and vote by mail.
During the COVID-19 pandemic, absentee voting was temporarily extended in New York to any voter ‘unable to appear personally at the polling place of the election district in which they are a qualified voter because there is a risk of contracting or spreading a disease causing illness to the voter or to other members of the public.’
Since 1995, an average of 1.5 constitutional amendments appeared on odd-year ballots in New York. As of May 12, four constitutional amendments had been approved for the November election. In addition to the two voting policy amendments, voters will also decide an amendment to make changes to the redistricting process in New York and an amendment to create a state constitutional right to clean air, clean water, and a healthful environment.
An additional two constitutional amendments could appear on the ballot, bringing the total up to six measures. These two amendments would increase the NYC Civil Court’s jurisdiction from civil cases involving $25,000 to $50,000 and remove the wartime service requirement for veterans to receive civil service credits.