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Empowering Voters in New York

This afternoon, two New York state lawmakers, Senator Michael Gianaris and Assemblymember Brian Kavanaugh, introduced legislation that would empower the voters of New York by providing more access to the ballot and giving the voter registration system a much overdue 21st century makeover.

The Voter Empowerment Act of New York would upgrade the inefficient, error-prone, and ancient voter registration process in the Empire State into a streamlined, computerized system. Government agencies would electronically transmit to elections officials all necessary voter registration information so that every eligible voter could easily be added to the voter rolls. There will be fewer forms, no lost paperwork or snail mail, no dealing with illegible handwriting and data entry duplicates or typos. And New Yorkers could finally register to vote or update their voter registration records online. (Yes, isn’t it ridiculous that in America, you can apply for a credit card online but to be able to vote you must register in-person or by mail every time you move?)

And Americans move a lot. So the legislation provides New Yorkers more opportunities to register to vote or update voter registration information. In addition to the DMV and public assistance offices, New York residents would be able change or add their voter registration information when they seek services such as housing or unemployment insurance. And when properly enforced, we know that this kind of law impacts millions of Americans.

The new voter registration system would also include the SUNY and CUNY campuses. Indeed, this bill is more inclusive of our youth, our future, while elsewhere around the country their right to vote continues to be trampled on by those who seek to choose voters. The Voter Empowerment Act also allows for the pre-registration of 16 and 17 year olds who would be able to register to vote at school or the DMV when they first get their driver’s license.

Finally, the Act would give New Yorkers more time to update or add their voter registration information – voters would have until 10 days before an election as opposed to the current 25-day deadline.

Demos joined the two state lawmakers and a number of good government and advocacy groups in supporting the Act:

“The Voter Empowerment Act proposes the greatest advance in New York’s elections system in over a century. With automated voter registration, we could leap frog from our 19th century, paper-based model into the computer age. Voters should expect the same level of automation and online access from elections agencies that they do from every other government offices and private business.”

With passage, only one hurdle would remain – state adoption of Same Day Registration. Elections experts have predicted that voter turnout could rise by over 8 percent in New York with Same Day Registration. Greater increases were projected for young voters, people of color, naturalized citizens and others. Nine states and the District of Columbia already allow voters to register and vote on Election Day and/or during the Early Voting period and they consistently lead the nation in voter turnout. Connecticut will join these ranks in 2013. New York should too.