Let NY Vote Coalition Storms Albany for First-Ever Hearing on Automatic Voter Registration
AVR would turn 1.1 million eligible unregistered New Yorkers into voters, 15 states + DC already have AVR
NEW YORK, NY (05/30/2019) (readMedia)-- Today, the Let NY Vote coalition, Senator Zellnor Myrie, Senate Deputy Majority Leader Michael Gianaris and advocates joined together to push for automatic voter registration (AVR): a process that would register eligible New Yorkers to vote when they interact with a government agency (i.e., the DMV, Department of Health), unless they opt out. After the press conference, the New York State Senate held the first-ever legislative hearing on AVR.
Currently, there are 1.1 million New Yorkers who are eligible to vote, but are unregistered. AVR would streamline the registration process, making it easier for eligible New Yorkers to vote. 15 states and Washington DC have already implemented some form of AVR since 2015.
"After historic wins on early voting and same day voter registration, automatic voter registration is the logical next step," said Susan Lerner, Executive Director of Common Cause/NY and founding member of Let NY Vote. "Automatic voter registration will streamline the way eligible New Yorkers vote, while providing adequate safeguards to protect the most vulnerable populations. We thank the Senate for holding this hearing on automatic voter registration and look forward to working together."
"Voting is the right that protects all other rights, yet New York is consistently ranked among the worst in the country in voter turnout. At a time when voting rights are under assault at the federal level and across the country, it is more important than ever to expand and protect our democracy in New York. Automatic Voter Registration is a straightforward and evidenced-backed policy that would remove barriers between voters and the ballot box and make it easier for people to make their voices heard," said State Senator Zellnor Myrie.
"At a time in our country when voting rights are under assault, New York must live up to its potential as a progressive leader," said Senate Deputy Majority Leader Michael Gianaris. "Access to the ballot box should be easy and fair, and enacting automatic voter registration would go a long way towards improving our democracy."
Automatic Voter Registration benefits historically disenfranchised communities like veterans, low income people who have regular contact with the government, and young people who are often transient. By 2020, 1 in 10 Generation Z and close to one third of millennials will be eligible voters in the country. Studies show that voting is habit forming: a person is more likely to vote in the next election if they voted in the one prior. By making voter registration opt-out, instead of opt-in, AVR increases registration rates and encourages eligible voters to participate in our elections. AVR also keeps the voter rolls more accurate, since voters update their registration information (like their address) when they interact with state agencies.
"In 2018, New York ranked second to last in youth voter turnout among the 42 states for which data is available. If we hope to empower the next generation of voters, we must pass bold reforms - like automatic voter registration - to propel New York into the twenty-first century and not leave young voters behind. Automatic Voter Registration is a proven method for boosting youth voter turnout by removing critical barriers to registration and creating a system which facilitates access. The results make it clear: New York's young voters need AVR, and we need it now," said Brianna Cea, co-founder of GenVote.
"Automatic voter registration is a common sense policy that will break down the barriers to voting for one million hardworking people in our state," said Hector Figueroa, president of 32BJ SEIU, the largest property service union in the country with 80,000 members in New York. "Participating in democracy shouldn't be difficult. Working families need an easier and accessible system to ensure they have a seat at the table."
"We have a saying in the navy, 'take care of your people. Your people will take care of the ship.' This advice certainly holds true outside the navy and when it comes to New York's one million unregistered eligible voters," said Dolpha Freeman, Navy Veteran and member of Vote Vets. "For hard to reach populations like veterans or people in low-income communities, AVR is critical to ensuring all citizens can register to vote. It's time for New York to care of its people by passing automatic voter registration this session."
Automatic voter registration will also save money by cutting down on mail costs since all transfers are electronic. This will also reduce handwritten errors and mistakes from election officials.
"It is imperative that New York legislators pass automatic voter registration as soon as possible," said Sean McElwee, founder of Data for Progress and AVR NOW. "This is about the fundamental question of who has access to the ballot box. At a time when states across the country have passed voter suppression laws to deny people of color, low-income citizens, and young people the right to vote, New York must take the lead in defending the democratic process by passing this critical policy."
"As Chair of the Assembly Committee on Election Law, I understand the important role voter participation has in our democratic system. Automatic voter registration has gained a great deal of momentum across the country and it is time that New York embrace this innovative policy," said Assembly Member Charles Lavine.
"This has been an historic year for voting reform in New York, but with just two-thirds of New Yorkers registered to vote, clearly more is needed to increase civic participation," said Liz Kennedy, Senior Policy Advisor at the Center for Secure and Modern Elections. "We know from experience that AVR is a safe and secure program that eliminates systematic registration barriers that confront eligible Americans, particularly young people, people of color, and low-income communities. The legislature should act to make New York a leader on pro-voter reforms by passing Automatic Voter Registration this year."
"New York has taken many steps this year in reforming our antiquated voting laws but we must not stop now. The best way to ensure the most people have access to the polls is to automatically register all New Yorkers and make it easier for them to change their party enrollment. This bill does just that," said Assemblymember Robert Carroll. "We need to make sure there are no arbitrary impediments to the ballot box and only then will we be able to increase participation and foster a better and more informed electorate."
The Let NY Vote Coalition is a statewide network of over 175 member organizations ranging from 32BJ, to NAACP New York to New York State Indivisible. Full coalition list here.
In January, the NYS Legislature passed - and Governor Cuomo signed into law -- early voting, consolidation of primaries, pre-registration of 16 and 17 year olds, and registration portability, which allows New Yorkers who move within the state to have their voter registration automatically updated via the USPS.
The Let NY Vote coalition has been demanding common sense voting reform in New York for years such as:
Early Voting: in place in 37 other states and now New York, allowing citizens to cast ballots in person days, sometimes weeks, before an election.
- Pre-registration of 16 and 17-year-olds: 13 states plus DC allow for pre-registration for voting at 16 and 17 years old. Pre-registration increases the likelihood of voter participation among young adults. Engaging potential voters at a young age and bringing them into the voting process early helps create lifelong voters.
- Consolidation of Primary Dates: Currently New York has two primary days in June and September, confusing voters. New York is the only state with two primaries.
- Vote by mail: No eligible voter should have to provide a reason to be able to vote absentee.
- Same day registration: 18 states and DC have Same Day Registration. Same Day Registration enables voters to register and vote at the same time and increases voter turnout.
- Automatic Voter Registration: where registering to vote becomes seamless, electronic, and automatic.
- Flexibility to Change Party Affiliation: New York has the most restrictive deadline in the country, locking out hundreds of thousands of voters during the primaries. The change of party deadline must be shortened to allow people to make an informed decision.
- Voting Rights for People on Parole: the restoration of voting rights for people on parole needs to be codified in law, so that restoration becomes an automatic process.