Editorial Board Memo: Albany Should Enact Early Voting and Automatic Voter Registration this April

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NEW YORK, NY (03/21/2017) (readMedia)-- TO: Editorial Board Editors

FROM: Brennan Center for Justice at NYU School of Law and Common Cause New York

DATE: March 21, 2017

RE: Albany Should Enact Early Voting and Automatic Voter Registration this April

New York has some of the worst voter participation rates in the country. Albany lawmakers have an opportunity this April 1 to finally enact a set of reforms that could bring huge improvements, by making it much easier to register to vote and to cast a ballot. With as many as 40 percent of its adult citizens not registered to vote as of the most recent census count in 2014, only about 29 percent of eligible adults turning out to vote in the 2014 midterms, and ranking 41st in voter turnout in 2016. New York needs modern, effective election administration, now.

The two key reforms are automatic voter registration and early voting, versions of which the Assembly passed last week and Gov. Cuomo proposed in January as part of the executive budget. Automatic registration would paperlessly enroll eligible citizens during routine interactions with state agencies, replacing the current process that forces would-be voters to have to go out of their way to register – not just once, but sometimes again after moving within the state. Early voting would allow New Yorkers to cast a ballot beginning days before Election Day, easing long lines and increasing accuracy and voter confidence. Six states are already ahead of New York in passing automatic registration, while 34 states already have early voting – and support for these reforms in other states is often bipartisan. We urge you to call on Gov. Cuomo and the New York legislature to enact automatic voter registration and early voting as part of this April's budget package.

Benefits of Automatic Voter Registration

Expands New York voter rolls potentially by millions - Currently New York's voter registration system is still largely paper-based and requires citizens to initiate the process, including remembering to update their voter registrations for certain relocations within the state. Automatic registration would, as the term indicates, automatically enroll eligible citizens during routine interactions with government agencies, creating a seamless, paperless system for maintaining registrations. Automatic registration is not compulsory registration; people would always have the choice to opt out. Gov. Cuomo has proposed automatic registration at the DMV for now, while the Assembly supports automatic registration at additional providers. We estimate that, at the DMV alone, automatic registration could add more than two million new voters to New York's rolls.

Increases efficiency and accuracy - Moving from a byzantine, paper-based registration system to an automatic, electronic one would benefit not just voters but also administrators. It helps to increase the accuracy of voter records and efficiency of administrative upkeep. Every year, voters are disenfranchised because they failed to update their registration information after a move. Paper registration forms account for far more errors than electronic files, election officials have said; modernization that reduces reliance on paper reduces these inaccuracies.

Boosts participation – In Oregon, the first state to implement automatic registration so far, the voter rolls expanded 9 percent in the first half-year under the policy in 2016 - a 4-fold increase in new DMV registrations. More than 40 percent of those newly enrolled voters turned out to vote last November. And, the boosts in turnout were not limited to voters of one party: particularly among young voters, there were turnout gains across the board.

Puts New York among a bipartisan group of national leaders – Early adopters of automatic voter registration include progressive states such as California, Connecticut, Oregon, and Vermont. But the six states that have passed the reform so far also include West Virginia and Alaska. Alaska's U.S. senators, both Republicans, have voiced support for automatic registration.

Benefits of Early Voting

Eases long lines - Early voting would allow people to cast a ballot beginning days before Election Day, easing the kinds of hour-plus lines New Yorkers endured upstate and downstate last November and which, research shows, discourage voters from showing up for the next election.

Allows more time to address errors -Early voting also gives officials the chance to recognize and address errors before it's too late for voters to cast a ballot that counts. Last year, for example, officials confirmed only after Election Day that a huge administrative mistake had wrongly purged more than 100,000 Brooklynites from the rolls, with many told at the polls that they were ineligible to vote.

Boosts turnout - With enough accessible sites and hours, and sufficient public education, early voting also has the power to boost turnout. Even less populous upstate counties stand to benefit from expanding voting times, as under current rules their polling sites do not open until noon for primary elections – potentially leaving out working parents and others who cannot make it after business hours.

Enjoys widespread bipartisan support - Early voting enjoys bipartisan support across the country. It is already available to voters in 34 states, with the Republican governor of Massachusetts this year calling it a "big success" in getting people out to vote. In fact, most early voting states lean Republican: 14 are red, 11 are blue, and 9 are purple. Republican officials in Florida supported expanding early voting to ease long lines. The bipartisan Presidential Commission on Election Administration recommended early voting as a way to reduce congestion, easing operations on Election Day itself and saving money and staff time. The report noted a "bipartisan consensus" among election administrators that early voting is helpful for officials and for voters.

Why Now

We face a fresh national assault on voting rights, with a president who insists, without evidence, that millions of people voted illegally last November. This baseless charge has already fueled proposals to restrict voting rights in a number of states. Against this backdrop, our elected leaders cannot allow New York's dismal voter participation numbers and antiquated election laws to persist because of politics as usual. They need to enact proven, practical reforms to welcome more eligible New Yorkers into our democracy and bring our state into the twenty-first century.

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For more information, please contact:

Brennan Center for Justice – Rebecca Autrey, rebecca.autrey@nyu.edu, 646-292-8316

Common Cause New York – Alexis Grenell, alexis@pythiapublic.com, 917-327-1180