NY Senate Plans Statewide Hearings On Elections With Voters Taking Center Stage

After a tumultuous primary election season in New York City that is renewing perennial calls to overhaul how the state runs its elections, the head of the New York State Senate Elections Committee, State Senator Zellnor Myrie of Brooklyn, announced plans on Monday to hold a series of hearings across the state to gather input from voters about their experiences at the polls. 

“We’re going to go out to Syracuse and Rochester. We’re going to hear from Westchester, Hudson Valley, and Long Island voters about what they think should be changed,” said Myrie during an appearance on The Brian Lehrer Show. “So it won’t just be a panel of experts and folks who work in this space regularly. We’re going to hear from the voters,” he added.

The announcement made good on a commitment from Senate Majority Leader Andrea Stewart Cousins who described the recent errors on the part of the New York City Board of Elections when they released and then retracted faulty ranked-choice voting tallies as a “national embarrassment” and pledged to hold legislative hearings this summer to develop reform proposals. 

The first State Senate hearing is expected to take place at Medgar Evers College in Brooklyn on July 28th with additional hearings scheduled for other localities in the final week of July and first week in August. Myrie said the process will culminate in Albany in September at a hearing that will also feature testimony from experts in election administration and good government.

These State Senate hearings come in addition to one previously announced by the Assemblymember Latrice Walker, who chairs that chamber’s Election Law Committee, specifically on the topic of ranked-choice voting. That hearing is scheduled for Monday, July 19th at 250 Broadway in Manhattan. 

Myrie, whose 20th Senate district overlaps in Brownsville, Brooklyn, with Walker’s Assembly district, said while he thinks the issues with election administration go beyond the city’s implementation of ranked-choice voting, he also said it was still something worth examining. But also he pointed to problems in other localities across the state, particularly related to the implementation of early voting. 

Case in point: last month, State Attorney General Letitia James announced she won a lawsuit against Rensselaer County over its refusal to establish an early voting site in Troy, the most populous city in the county with the largest population of people of color. That decision forced the Rensselaer County Board of Elections to establish an early voting site in Troy ahead of the June primary. 

Most changes to the structure of the city’s Board of Elections, specifically related to its bipartisan composition, would require a state constitutional amendment which would need to pass both chambers of the state legislature in two consecutive legislative sessions before going before the voters as a ballot referendum, a three-year process that could take until 2024 at the earliest.

While the hearings are a first step in a reform process, Myrie voiced hope that there were other “tweaks” to election law that could improve the process sooner. 

“My mantra has been taking New York from worst to first,” said Myrie, “and we are going to continue to live by that as we go through these hearings.”