The state Senate on Monday moved to strengthen absentee balloting in New York after an election cycle that saw a record number of voters cast ballots that way due to the COVID-19 pandemic. 

“Elections matter, voting matters, and leadership matters. We have seen how fundamental change can be achieved when people exercise their Constitutional right to vote,” Senate Majority Leader Andrea Stewart-Cousins said.

“The Senate Democratic Majority has started the past two Legislative Sessions with legislative packages to empower New Yorkers and reduce barriers to voting. The bills advanced by the Senate Majority continue those efforts and will help reform and modernize our electoral system. I applaud the bill sponsors for their leadership on this foundational issue, and thank my colleagues for advancing these bills and standing up for New York voters.”

One measure would require absentee ballots to be processed and counted as they arrive to local elections boards as counts of ballots lagged days or sometimes weeks after Election Day. 

Another measure would require applications for absentee ballots to be approved on an expedited basis. And lawmakers also want to ensure voters can apply for absentee ballots online and have protections in place to ensure those votes are counted.

Lawmakers also approved first passage of a constitutional amendment that would create no-excuse absentee balloting. 

"As our Democratic supermajority continues to reform the way elections are run, fixing our latest-in-the-nation vote counting status will go a long way towards restoring faith in election results," said Sen Mike Gianaris. "I am proud to have authored this important legislation so we are never again still counting votes into the new year."

The measures come after a record number of voters in New York and around the country voted by absentee amid the pandemic. Gov. Andrew Cuomo earlier this year essentially created by executive order no-excuse absentee balloting, allowing voters to cite the pandemic as a reason to limit their ability to be at the polls in person. 

Cuomo last week announced he would back a bolstering of absentee ballot access and early voting in New York.  

But some advocates were disappointed the Senate did not take up a measure that would automatically restore voting rights for people released from state prisons. 

"It is imperative that full restoration of voting rights be made a priority in New York in order to achieve a true and inclusive democracy," said Soffiyah Elijah, the executive director of Alliance of Families for Justice. 

"Anything short of that, panders to centuries of racist efforts to silence and marginalize Black, Brown and poor people. It is past time for New York to emerge as a leader in democracy, justice and equity,”