Women Leaders Push for Voting Rights Reforms in State Budget

Early Voting and Automatic Voter Registration push coincides with 100th anniversary of women's suffrage in NYS

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NEW YORK, NY (03/13/2017) (readMedia)-- As New Yorkers celebrate the 100th anniversary of women's suffrage, women leaders joined at the Million Dollar Staircase in Albany to call on the Legislature to modernize our elections and expand voting rights. In January, Governor Cuomo included provisions that would establish needed reforms such as Early Voting and Automatic Voter Registration. 135 women and organizations - including Syracuse Mayor Stephanie Miner; Linda Sarsour, National Co-Chair for the Women's March on Washington; Zephyr Teachout, activist; Heather McGhee, President of Demos; Andrea Miller, President of the National Institute for Reproductive Health; Julie Kushner, Director at UAW Region 9A; Karen Magee, President of New York State United Teachers (NYSUT); Common Cause New York; Citizen Action of New York; the Brennan Center for Justice; League of Women Voters; Make the Road New York; the New York Civil Liberties Union; and the Working Families Party - signed onto a letter (attached) asking state legislative leaders fund the Governor's voting reforms in the budget.

Enacting Early Voting would allow New Yorkers to cast their ballot at polling locations before the traditional Election Day. 34 states already have some form of Early Voting, leaving New York as one of only 16 states without any means to vote early except via absentee ballot. And despite the fact that only 29 percent of New York's voting-age citizens voted in 2014, putting it in the bottom third nationally, New York does not have any form of Automatic Voter Registration. Automatically registering eligible voters encourages civic participation, and provides a vehicle for state agencies to efficiently tranfser voter registration information to the Board of Elections.

"Protecting the rights of voters must be a priority for all levels of government. We must never tolerate any form of voter discrimination or efforts to undermine a person's right to vote because an individual's vote is too important to the principles of our democracy," said Assemblywoman Latrice Walker (D-55). 'We look forward to the governor putting real voting reforms in the budget."

Said New York State United Teachers President Karen Magee: "Every vote matters. Every election matters. We saw that in November and, as educators, my members see it every May when voters -- in numbers far too small -- decide on their school district budgets and, hence, on their communities' educational priorities. New York now has an opportunity to be a national leader and do all it can to make voting easier and more accessible."

Said Syracuse Mayor Stephanie Miner: "New York needs to be at the forefront of increasing ballot access. From Seneca Falls to Suffrage to the Women's Marches we saw in January, women – and men – in New York must do what we can to expand voting rights for all. I am pleased to endorse these proposals and look forward to seeing them enacted this year."

"Today I join my colleagues in commemorating the 100th year Anniversary of Women's Suffrage, and the call for voting rights reform to include both Automatic Voter Registration and Early Voting," said Assemblymember Rodneyse Bichotte (D-42). "As many as 40% of citizens of voting age in New York, or 5.5 million people,were not registered to vote as of 2014, which is the most recent reliable data. Automatic Voter Registration makes sense because we know that when people are registered to vote, they are more likely to go out and vote. Additionally, New York consistently ranks amongst the worst states in voter turnout. Early Voting would provide more flexibility and create more opportunities for people to participate in our democracy. Also, although women have won the franchise to vote, when it comes to equal pay for equal work. parity in terms of contracts in government procurement, and overall economic development indicators for women we still have a way to go."

"The New York State Legislature must make a firm commitment to ensuring that our citizens can exercise their right to vote," stated Assemblywoman Michaelle Solages (D-22). "Enacting these bills into law, will amplify the voice of the people and create an opportunity for New York State to increase our abysmal voter-turnout during elections."

Said Tanya Melich, Co-Founder of the National Women's Political Caucus: "In 1917 New York Republican women were leaders in the fight for women's suffrage and election reform. Today I urge Republican lawmakers to validate that proud history by supporting pending voting reform legislation. Our state has been called the Empire State. Until the legislature brings New York's voting laws into the 21st century, that label is an embarrassing sham."

"Voting is a fundamental right," said Assembly Member Patricia Fahy (D-109). "Women in New York State won the right to vote 100 years ago, and the legacy of the suffragettes inspires us today. Early voting, automatic voter registration, and measures to make voting accessible for New Yorkers will enhance our Democracy and honor those who have fought for the right to vote."

"New York State has one of the lowest voting rates in the country, and this is partly due to the outdated rules and regulations that govern voting," said Assemblywoman Shelly Mayer (D-90). "Passing laws that allows for early voting and automatic voter registration are common sense reforms that we can enact to increase civic participation. I commend the Demand Democracy coalition for pressing such a vital issue."

"It is time to enact much needed reforms to eliminate the barriers of voter registration rules and procedures," said Assemblywoman Rebecca Seawright (D-76). "It has been 100 years since women won the right to vote and we are reminded of the consequences of voter suppression. I am proud to join my elected colleagues, civic and political leaders to eliminate voter suppression and pass early voting and automatic voter registration."

"As we celebrate the centennial anniversary of women's suffrage today, we must be cognizant that far too many barriers still prevent Americans of all backgrounds from truly participating in our democracy," said Assemblywoman Linda B. Rosenthal (D-67). "Enfolding more Americans in the democratic process by providing them a voice in federal, state and local elections should not be a partisan issue. All elected officials across the country, and of course here in New York State, have an obligation to ensure all constituents have equal access to the ballot. We should adopt early voting and automatic registration in this year's budget. Unnecessary restrictions were an obstacle 100 years ago; let's not make those same mistakes in 2017."

Said Alison McLean Lane, Albany County Legislator (D-Menands): "Voting rights are the means by which women will achieve true equality. By ensuring every New Yorker has as much access possible to vote means more voter participation. Women have always held multiple jobs, homemakers, job holders, mothers etc. offering them as much opportunity as possible to participate in the voting process is integral ensuring their voices are heard."

"In the great tradition we started 100 years ago, let New York lead the way for the strongest voting rights in the country," said Ulster County Legislator Jennifer Schwartz Berky (D-Kingston).

"These are among the most concrete and impactful actions that the Governor and State Legislature can take to make democratic principles an electoral reality in New York," said Jen Metzger, Councilwoman for the Town of Rosendale (D).

Said Niskayuna Deputy Town Supervisor Denise Murphy McGraw: "As an American, an elected official, and the mother of a teenage girl, I am committed to ensuring as many individuals as possible take part in our democratic process. Early voting and automatic registration make voting more accessible for all New Yorkers."

"A century after women won the right to vote, we're still fighting to modernize our out of date elections so that all citizens have access to the franchise," said Susan Lerner, Executive Director of Common Cause New York. "New Yorkers deserve the same access to Early Voting and Automatic Voter Registration as Americans in 34 other states and the District of Columbia. The Legislature must follow the Governor's lead and fund these vital voting reforms in the state budget."

"At a time when voting rights are under attack across the country, our elected representatives need to stand up to that assault and make it easier for eligible New Yorkers to vote and be heard. We've got some of the lowest voter participation rates in the country. Two proposals before law makers right now can change that. Automatic voter registration stands to add millions more voters to New York's rolls. Adding early voting days would make it significantly more convenient to vote-for some people it could make all the difference in whether they are able to cast a ballot at all. We call on our state's elected leaders to pass these reforms now," said Chisun Lee, Senior Counsel for the Democracy Program at the Brennan Center for Justice.

Deborah Axt, Co-Executive Director of Make the Road New York, said: "The Trump administration has clearly shown its intention to invent lies to justify suppressing voting rights across our country. Now more than ever, New York must stand up and lead to ensure that all of our residents' voices are heard. We must modernize our out-of-date voting system and take steps like automatic voter registration and early voting to make it easier to register to vote and cast your ballot."

Said Dahlia McManus, Deputy Director, New York Working Families Party: "On the 100th anniversary of women gaining the right to vote in New York, we still have work to do to make sure that all working families can participate in our basic and fundamental forms of civic engagement. We urge the state legislature to bring voting rights into the 21st century in New York by making both early voting and automatic voter registration a reality."

Said Shirley Aldebol, Vice President of 32BJ: "Now more than ever all New Yorkers must be able to fully and freely exercise their right to vote, without having to choose between making ends meet, caring for their families or casting their ballot. We must pass early voting and automatic voter registration in the state. This will raise voter turnout in our state and strengthen our democracy:"

"More than 100 years ago women of New York faced nearly impossible circumstances to revolutionize our democracy and win the right ?to ?vote,? yet they succeeded,?" said Karen Scharff, Executive Director of Citizen Action of New York. "The next step in ?expanding our democracy ?is to ??make it easier for all people to register and vote. Albany has a chance right now to truly empower voters to engage in their democracy, and with the leadership of the women lawmakers here today, we ?look forward to get?ting? it done."

Said Shabd Simon-Alexander: "Historically women, people of color, and other marginalized communities have done the unpaid, unacknowledged work of civic organizing that changes the world to expand the number of voices of it. By making voting more acessible to all we achieve the highest ideal of our democracy: inclusion."

Said Margaret Fung, Executive Director of the Asian American Legal Defense and Education Fund: "With the fast-growing Asian American population in New York, it is critical for the state to enact election reforms that will remove barriers to voting, especially for new citizens and limited English proficient Asian Americans."

Said Sonia Ossario, Preisdent of the National Organization for Women New York: ""Voter suppression has been eroding our electoral process and by all indications efforts to prevent voters from getting to the polls will intensify. New York has it within its grasp to mitigate voter suppression and ensure New Yorkers have every opportunity to cast their votes."

Said Erin Riddle, Chair of the Sierra Club Atlantic Chapter: ""We know that so many New Yorkers want to see clean water, healthy air, and safer communities through more just environmental policy, but for some reason elected officials are not representing the interests of their constituents. We will no longer stand for an election system that works to protect those who fail to work for us."

Said Diana Wright, owner of Completely Home Real Estate, LLC: "With the advances of technology, there is no reason that NYS should not allow election day registration as they do in many other New England states including Connecticut, other than not really wanting to give every citizen the opportunity to vote."

Said DeNora Getachew, Executive Director of Generation Citizen New York: "Our democracy is at a crossroads --young people don't view government as the way to effect change and therefore don't care about voting for elected officials. And, when young people want to vote, we expect them to pull out their time machines and use antiquated voting processes in order to make their voices heard. Automatic voter registration and early voting would not only bring New York's voting processes into the 21st century, but are also a perfect complement to Generation Citizen's "driver's ed" for civic engagement to ensure that young people are active and engaged voters."

Said Barbara Thomas, Steering Committee Lead for the League of Women Voters of Saratoga County: "Nothing is more important for our democracy than access to the ballot box - early voting and electronic poll books will remove significant barriers."

Said Dr. Carol F. Bullard, PhD, Capital District Organizing Team Leader for the NY4Democracy Coalition: "We must do everything in our power to give every citizen in NYS the best possible opportunity to vote!"

Said Brianna Cea, Regional Coordinator of the Roosevelt Institute Lower Northeast Region: "As demonstrated by the last election cycle, New York State is in dire need for voter reform. Roosevelt Institute chapters across New York urge our elected officials to create a more accessible democratic process so citizens of all generations can have their voice heard in the political process."

Said Carolyn Del Vecchio, activist for Show Up for Racial Justice: "We are counting on our beloved New York State to live up to its reputation for leading the country and the world in the struggle towards justice and equity for all people."

Said Joan Mandle, Executive Director of Democracy Matters: "Women students are mobilizing to make sure everyone can vote. Democracy demands no less."

Said Syliva Golbin Goodman, Executive Director of the Andrew Goodman Foundation: "Voting is a Civil Right. Protect it!"

Said Michelle Tedeschi, President Friends of the Women's Rights National Historical Park: "Change will come if 100% of women vote. Be a he for she."

Said Gloria J. Browne-Marshall, Director of the Law and Policy Group, Inc.: "If you Don't Vote. You Don't Count."

Said Amy Harlib from Yoga for Peace, Justice and Harmony With the Planet: "The more voters, the better!"

"A century after our foremothers won the vote, many Americans still struggle to take advantage of our most fundamental right of citizenship," said Senator Liz Krueger (D-28). "New York State can and must do more to make voting free, fair, and accessible to all New Yorkers. Early voting and automatic voter registration are not radical proposals – they are commonsense solutions that have worked in other states. I urge Governor Cuomo and the leaders of the legislature to stand on the side of New York voters and include these reforms in the budget."

"I think it's important to note that this was the first presidential election held since the Supreme Court gutted the pivotal Voting Rights Act of 1965, making voting harder to access," said Senator Toby Ann Stavisky (D-16). "It is necessary for us as New Yorkers to reassure our constituents that we are committed to making the voting process as convenient, accessible and accurate as possible. Every New Yorker has a right to have their voice hear and their vote counted. This is all about promoting early voting, slashing red tape for party-switching and consolidating primaries in order to save money and level the playing field so that voters feel encouraged, supported and empowered."

The letter to Governor Cuomo and legislative leaders is below:

March 13, 2017

Dear Governor Cuomo, Speaker Heastie, Majority Leader Flanagan and Leader Klein,

Women of New York campaigned for decades, on the streets and at the ballot box to win suffrage 100 years ago this year. The leaders of that movement crossed lines of race, class and region to unite for a stronger democracy. Today, we are united in our belief that the best way to commemorate their accomplishment is by moving New York's voting laws into the 21st century.

As women leaders of New York, we call on you to enact early voting and comprehensive, automatic voter registration – two cornerstones of modern voter rights – in this year's 2017 final budget due April 1st. The Governor's Executive Budget includes a version of these proposals. The Assembly passed versions of these proposals at the end of last legislative session. These policies are very popular, even across party lines. Early voting has become the norm in 34 states, while New York would be in the vanguard joining the 6 states that have automatic registration.

Every New Yorker deserves a democracy that is fair and promotes their full participation.

We need action now. In truth, New York's track record in this area is shameful. Our state consistently ranks amongst the worst states in voter turnout. In the 2014 midterms, only 29% of New York's voting-age citizens voted-the state's lowest turnout in 40 years, ahead of only Indiana, Mississippi, Tennessee, and Texas. As many as 40% of citizens of voting age in New York, or 5.5 million people, were not registered to vote as of 2014, the most recent reliable data. This registration rate puts New York in the bottom third of the country.

Across the country we see the disastrous impact of voter suppression laws, especially for communities of color. But here in New York, we have our own kind of voter suppression laws – registration laws that are so antiquated that they are ineffective, or worse, negatively affecting New Yorkers' ability to participate in their democracy.

There are unsubstantiated claims of too many people voting in this country, but we know the truth – the real fraud is a system that keeps too many eligible Americans from voting. Our broken democracy must be fixed with true voting rights reforms. Let us make New York a leader again.