As the New York State Legislature prepares to hold critical budget votes during the coronavirus outbreak, it is entering uncharted waters. Today, the State Assembly is poised to pass Assembly Resolution No. 854 (Peoples-Stokes). The proposed Resolution indicates that during a state of emergency, the Speaker of the Assembly may “allow for members to be in attendance in any proceeding of the House by remote means including teleconference or videoconference.” The Resolution also contains the following language:
That, notwithstanding the provisions of section 2 of Rule V of the Assembly Rules, during a period of declared state or national state of emergency, in the event a slow roll call is not requested, the yeas and nays on the final passage of a bill or any other question before the House shall be taken by a fast roll call and a member desiring to vote in the negative on such a roll call shall do so by entering a negative vote through the electronic voting system or in such other manner as may be prescribed by the Speaker. All other members shall be recorded in the affirmative.
Jason J. McGuire, Executive Director of New Yorkers for Constitutional Freedoms (NYCF), made the following remarks: “New Yorkers for Constitutional Freedoms has serious concerns about Assembly Resolution No. 854 (Peoples-Stokes). When a fast roll call vote is being conducted during a state of emergency, the Resolution would deem each Member of the Assembly to have voted “yea” on a bill unless that Member states otherwise. In theory, Members could still request slow roll call votes via electronic means; however, the Resolution leaves this process to the Speaker’s discretion. It is one thing for the Assembly to vote by a fast roll call when Members are present in the Assembly Chamber and any member can have a bill laid aside for debate; it is quite another to make a fast roll call the default voting procedure when videoconferencing is being used. What mechanism will be in place to allow Members to request slow roll call votes? And what mechanism will be in place to allow Members to vote “nay” during fast roll calls? The concern is that Members could be deemed to have voted “yea” on bills without having had the opportunity to oppose them. Such a process would violate Article III, §14 of the New York State Constitution.”
“New Yorkers for Constitutional Freedoms supports the concept of remote voting for continuity of government during declared state or national emergencies, but we cannot support Assembly Resolution No. 854 (Peoples-Stokes). This rule change would leave Members who wish to vote “nay” at the mercy of some as-yet-undetermined process to be implemented by the Speaker of the Assembly. Surely, there is a better way to assure continuity of government without compromising either public safety or the constitutional prerogatives of elected officials,” concluded McGuire.