People For the American Way Foundation

UPDATE: Making voter registration easier in New York

UPDATE: New York is continuing to take positive steps toward voter registration reform, as Governor Andrew Cuomo just announced an initiative that will allow voter registration applications, as well as party and address changes, to be completed online through the state DMV website. Every DMV office will be equipped with computerized data entry devices where voters will be able to register themselves. Driver License applications—which include voter registration applications—will be made available in more languages. While DMV reforms are just one among many types needed, they promise to make voter registration easier, cheaper, and more efficient across the state. Click here for more information and here for the reactions of election officials and voting rights supporters.

The Right to Vote under Attack: The Campaign to Keep Millions of Americans from the Ballot Box, a Right Wing Watch: In Focus report by PFAW Foundation, details the worst of the worst of the Right’s fight to suppress the vote. Many states have indeed taken up this fight with voter ID, proof of citizenship, and other suppressive legislation.

It was refreshing to see New York buck that trend. On June 7, State Senator Mike Gianaris and Assemblymember Brian Kavanagh introduced the Voter Empowerment Act.

Senator Gianaris:

As election season approaches, government bureaucracy continues to impede too many people from voting. […] Our proposal would remove these obstacles and maximize voter turnout while saving the state and its counties hundreds of thousands of dollars per election, thus preventing disenfranchisement and enabling better record keeping.

Assemblymember Kavanagh:

When voters try to register, or change their address, or change their party, they often find that the rules prevent them from making the change in a timely way or, worse, that the change doesn’t take and they are excluded from voting. […] By modernizing the way we collect, process, and store voter information, we can make registration virtually universal among New Yorkers who are eligible to vote.

Wendy Weiser, Director of the Democracy Program at the Brennan Center:

We applaud Senator Gianaris and Assemblymember Kavanagh for taking this much needed step to bring New York’s outdated and error-prone voter registration system into 21st century. Through this effort, New York will lead the country in having a voter registration system that is accurate, complete, and works for all voters.

The bill would make the voter registration process more efficient and accessible in several ways. Consenting citizens would be automatically registered at designated government agencies. Pre-registry would be introduced for 16 and 17-year-olds. Residents who move within the state would have their registration automatically updated. Registration information would be put online and the process would be computerized. Registration and party identification changes would be allowed to continue later in the election cycle.

All of these provisions have been included with the intent of correcting New York’s recent underperformance in voter registration. In 2010, the state’s registration rate ranked third worst in the nation.