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Online Voter Registration Bill Introduced in New York State

BY Miranda Neubauer | Thursday, June 7 2012

Proposed legislation introduced in the New York State Senate would allow for online voter registration in the state, automatic voter registration when New Yorkers interact with government agencies, and permit pre-registration of 16- and 17- year-olds. The Voter Empowerment Act of New York was officially announced earlier today at a press conference with sponsors State Senator Michael Gianaris (D), Assemblymember Brian Kavanagh (D) and the Brennan Center for Justice at the NYU School of Law, which supports the plan.

According to a press release, the proposal is modeled after the Voter Empowerment Act introduced by Democrats in the House of Representatives in May. The sponsors note that similar measures have been successfully implemented in Arizona, Delaware, Georgia, Kansas, Pennsylvania, and Washington. "When signed into law, the Voter Empowerment Act of New York would be the most comprehensive state plan implemented to modernize the voter registration system," the press release notes.

As techPresident reported in February, the move to online voter registration has been slow, but appeared to be gaining some steam this year. At the time, Kavanagh had spoken about his proposal for related legislation that would implement electronic voter registration. "This is an area that elected officials are cautious about since it is passing laws about the business they're in," Kavanagh said at the time. But in spite of a busy legislative agenda, he said he expected the legislation could be passed this year. "There is an inevitability to this."

The legislation, the sponsors say, woud computerize the entire registration process, reducing typographical and clerical errors. Allowing voters to pre-register before their 18th birthday would also improve voter and registration rates, say the legislation's sponsors. In 2010, only 36 percent of New York’s citizen voting-age population cast ballots, making the state’s voter registration rate the third worst among states in the country, the press release notes. “As election season approaches, government bureaucracy continues to impede too many people from voting,” Senator Gianaris said according to the statement. “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.”

Another part of the legislation would allow party enrollment or affiliation changes to take effect ten days after the date on which the changes were applied, instead of the first Tuesday following a general election.

Anna Adams-Sarthou, director of communications and deputy chief of staff for Gianaris, said in an e-mail that it wasn't yet certain when the legislation would be brought up for a vote in the Senate as the legislative session ends in two weeks, but "the bill has been introduced and we're hoping to have a vote on it as soon as possible."

The Voter Assistance Annual Report released earlier this spring by the New York City Campaign Finance Board's Voter Assistance Advisory Comittee had expressed support for such legislation. "On average, online registration costs three cents to process; the average paper registration costs 83 cents," the report notes. "In Maricopa County, Arizona, $1 million was saved over five years by simply using an online voter registration system."

The legislation would also automatically transfer registrations of New Yorkers who move within the state. "An estimated 12 percent of New York City residents of voting age move each year," the Voter Assistance Annual Report stated. "To change their address with the BOE, New York voters must print, fill out, and mail a new registration form — a long and tedious process. Although New Yorkers who move may vote by affidavit ballot at their new polling place, they may not receive information about changes to their poll site or candidates running in their district. Allowing voters to directly update their information online would simplify the process for voters and the BOE, while keeping the voter rolls more accurate." The report also supports City Council legislation that would require the Campaign Finance Board to provide email notifications regarding upcoming significant dates related to voting for local, state, and federal elections to prospective voters who have provided their email addresses to the CFB.