By: David Lim
After taking the Assembly last year, state Democrats have been busy. Despite its progressive reputation, New York had among the most restrictive voting laws in the nation. In particular, no other state held its state and federal primary elections on different days. Moreover, New York was one of twelve states without early voting. For voters who want to change their party, they have to change it more than a year before the election. But with control of the legislature, New York’s Democrats, Governor Cuomo included, have made significant efforts to reform New York’s election laws in the past year.
Among these efforts is an amendment to a New York election law, which now gives registered voters three hours of time off of work to vote. Under Section 3-110 of New York Election Law, an employee can take three hours of paid time off to vote, either at the beginning or at the end of their working shift, provided they request the time off not less than two working days before election day. The law also requires that employers adequately inform their employees of their right to take time off by way of notice. This notice must be conspicuous (i.e., visible to all employees entering and leaving the place of work) and must be posted not less than ten days before every election. This law does not speak to whether employers may require proof of voter registration, or whether an employer can require proof that their employee in fact voted. The New York State Board of Elections does state that employers cannot charge time off to vote against the voter’s personal time off. The Board reasons that the entire purpose of Section 3-110 is “to eliminate any penalty for exercising the right of suffrage and to remove a practical obstacle to getting out the vote.”
Before this amendment, voters could only take two hours of paid time off, so long as they could demonstrate that they have insufficient time before or after work. Under the old law, sufficient time is having four or more consecutive hours off between the time when the polls opened and their shift begins; or having four or more consecutive hours between the end of their shift and the closing of polls). Put simply, this amendment allows voters to take an additional hour of paid time to vote, regardless of whether the voter has sufficient time to vote before or after their shift.
New York is not the only state to provide time off for registered voters. In fact, 30 states provide their voters opportunities to take time from work to vote. Of course, these laws vary considerably. For example, some states require, as New York once did, that voters have insufficient time before or after their shift. In other states, voters must provide proof that they actually voted. Some states provide that employers give voters paid time off, while others do not. Alabama, for instance, gives voters time off to vote, but only one hour, and that time is unpaid. These differences certainly matter, especially for employers. Employers will invariably bear the cost of wages in states that provide voters with paid time off to vote (such as New York). Employers also may face civil or criminal penalties for failing to comply with voting leave laws. In New York, failure to comply with Section 3-110 may result in civil enforcement remedies (Election Law Section 3-104), or a misdemeanor charge (Election Law Section 17-168) for “knowingly and willfully” violating Section 3-110. Given our poor voter turnout, perhaps the Albany has the right idea by affording voters greater opportunity to vote, among other things.