New York election (photo: Michael Appleton/Mayoral Photography Office)
Since Democrats reclaimed full control of New York state government in 2019, the Senate and Assembly have taken the lead in enacting a series of pro-voting rights reforms. The backlog was long, but they delivered major victories on early voting, automatic voter registration, and other pro-democracy actions with the goal of ensuring all New Yorkers have equal access to the ballot box and that our election systems are safe and secure.
But for every step forward, another significant challenge seems to emerge. In recent years, an unprecedented global pandemic required significant changes to election administration, which exposed strains in the system, including the way our votes are counted and handled. The State Senate held five hearings across the state, collecting testimony from over 100 individuals to determine the major concerns facing voters and potential solutions to those issues.
And now, as we inch closer to the midterm elections, it’s clear that New York will be stretched to the max to handle the onslaught that is certain to greet election administrators in every corner of the state this fall.
This problem is not unique to New York. All states need a true partner in the federal government to help invest in the election infrastructure necessary to get this done right. That is why it is critically important that Congress fully fund President Biden’s budget request, which proposes $10 billion over the next decade to bolster state and local election administration needs. This is a leap from just $1.3 billion in the prior decade.
According to a recent study released by the Elections Infrastructure Initiative, New York requires an estimated $2.79 billion in funds to cover the overhaul needed to modernize and administer state and local elections infrastructure. New York ranked third in the nation for election infrastructure needs in this report, just behind California and Texas.
The study found that in New York $38 million is needed to replace our state’s old voting machines, $48 million is needed to revamp statewide voter registration systems, $13 million is required to bolster post-election audits, and $51 million is needed to pay for cybersecurity improvements and maintenance. If anything, these figures underestimate the dire situation our state and local Boards of Election are in after years of funding neglect.
The good news is that President Biden’s budget proposal will address many longstanding concerns about election administration. Not only would these federal resources ensure state and local elections officials receive a reliable stream of funding, they would also help make it easier for New Yorkers to vote-by-mail.
This investment is needed to bring confidence to the election administration process and will allow local Boards of Election to expand voting access while modernizing systems and ensuring the safety and security of New York’s elections.
Not only is federal funding for state election management a win-win for New York, it’s also extremely popular. A new national poll from Data for Progress found that nearly 70% of likely voters nationwide believe that federal lawmakers should be providing election officials the tools they need to make our elections run smoothly. From requiring better internet access to improving security systems to upgrading voting machines and mail sorting equipment, huge majorities of Americans were in favor of these federal investments. That includes 69% of Republicans who support this assistance.
Investing in election infrastructure is popular, it’s long overdue and it’s badly needed to ensure election officials have the resources necessary to continue to safely and securely administer elections. I commend President Biden for including this transformational investment in his budget request and urge our state’s congressional delegation and representatives across the country to support this vital initiative. This is a down payment on our democratic future.
Kristen Zebrowski Stavisky is Co-Executive Director of the New York State Board of Elections.