Albany, NY — Members of the Joint Legislative Conference Committee on HAVA Implementation have made substantial progress. However, key issues remain unresolved.
At a news conference today representatives of good government, voting rights, and civil rights organizations voiced concern that legislation proposed by the Senate leadership would undermine HAVA's most important purpose - making sure that every eligible voter gets to vote.
Many thousands of eligible voters throughout New York State would be disenfranchised if the bill is passed into law, according to the advocates. They called upon the Senate to amend provisions in its bill that would:
* Reject voter registration applications that do not provide driver's license numbers or partial social security numbers — even though this creates an arbitrary barrier to voting that is prohibited by the Voting Rights Act and the U.S. Constitution;
* Prevent persons from registering to vote if their identification numbers do not "match" with records in the databases of the Social Security Administration or DMV — even though virtually all "mismatches" are due to errors at the boards of election or in the databases themselves.
Legislation drafted by the Assembly provides these crucial protections - consistent with the Help America Vote Act. At today's news conference the advocates argued that without these protections thousands of eligible voters will be denied their right to vote due to administrative errors. These protections are required, the advocates asserted, not only by HAVA, but also by the federal Voting Rights Act and the U.S. Constitution.
To demonstrate the potential problem with the Senate bill, the advocates cited statistics regarding the most recent election in New York City. Prior to that election, 20 percent of the voter-registration information that was compared with the information in the DMV database failed to produce a "match."
However, when election workers examined those registrations by hand, they discovered that 99.7% of the 2,959 "mismatches" were not the result of incorrect information provided by the voter, but of errors entering data into the elections database. Under the Senate's proposal all of these eligible voters would have been denied the right to vote.
"We already know from concrete experience that the Senate's legislation would illegally prevent tens of thousands of eligible New York voters from being able to register because of errors by election officials. Such a result violates not only HAVA, but also the federal Voting Rights Act and the U.S. Constitution, said Wendy Weiser, attorney at the Brennan Center for Justice at NYU Law School.
"As we reform our elections here in New York there are two paths we can go down. One path leads forward, to a future with a guarantee of the right to vote for every eligible citizen. The other leads backward, to a past where voting was more of a privilege than a right. The Senate must decide which path we take," said Christian Smith-Socaris of the New York Civil Liberties Union.
"With all of the unnecessary, and probably illegal, barriers faced by New York's voters over the years, this is a chance for Albany to get it right. Unfortunately, the Senate is moving in the wrong direction. The Joint Legislative Conference Committee must reject the current position and make sure that the new voter registration system being developed includes the name of every eligible voter," said Steve Carbo, Democracy Program Director at Demos.
"Should eligible voters be denied their fundamental right to vote cause of administrative errors by election officials? We say No! The Legislature must not create new and unnecessary barriers to voter registration," said Aimee Allaud, New York State League of Women Voters.
"As the Help America Vote Act (HAVA) Implementation deadline nears, the New York State Senate has yet to take decisive legislative action to ensure every vote is counted in future elections," said Deni Frand, Executive Director of People For the American Way, NY. "Instead of putting up roadblocks to voting, our leaders should implement election reform worthy of the Empire State, where the people of New York go to the polls confident that each and every vote will be counted."
"As the legislature moves closer to HAVA implementation it is imperative that both the Senate and Assembly agree on a system that will not disenfranchise any eligible voters" stated Doug Israel, Advocacy Director, Citizens Union, "Every vote must be counted every election."
"Governor Pataki and state lawmakers should act on HAVA," said Blair Horner of NYPIRG. "The time for delay has passed. And HAVA must be implemented in a way that protects voters' rights, not creates new obstacles to civic participation."
"We want the Senate and Assembly to adopt the best possible voting package for New Yorkers; one that ensures access for all, security, the best machinery possible and doesn't stop them from registering through too many barriers at the beginning. We should be encouraging access to the voting system, not making it more difficult to register. We want better voter participation rates in the future, not less people voting because they couldn't jump through the hoops in this verification process," stated Ron Deutsch, Board member of Common Cause/NY.
The Coalition is an ad hoc and diverse coalition of Good Government, Voting Rights, Racial Justice, Disability Rights, and Language Rights organizations that are concerned about the way in which New York implements the Help America Vote Act (HAVA). We are committed to protecting voting rights and improving the electoral process in New York.