Making Voting Better: Registration Edition

Did you know that there are over 750,000 eligible citizens in New York State who are not registered to vote?

While new legislation has recently been adopted to make registering to vote easier for New Yorkers, there are additional steps our state can take to ensure all citizens have the opportunity to register and vote. Read on to learn more about how voter registration could be faster, more streamlined, and accessible.

Automatic Voter Registration

Automatic voter registration (AVR) is often referred to as a new or updated version of the National Voter Registration Act (Motor Voter). AVR is an “opt-out” policy by which an eligible voter is placed on the voter rolls at the time they interact with a motor vehicle agency, unless they decline to register. Some states automatically register individuals when they interact with other government agencies as well.

In Oregon, where AVR was implemented in 2016, AVR registrants were younger and more likely to live in low to middle income, low education, and racially diverse areas than the rest of the electorate. A study of these new registrants concludes that “AVR strengthens democracy by expanding and broadening the electorate. AVR’s streamlined systems can save states and localities significant costs, make the voter registration lists more accurate and up to date, and increase the security of the voting system.”

Additionally, legislation introduced during the 2017-2018 legislative session names several “source agencies” in addition to the DMV that would be required to automatically register individuals who interact with them: the State University of New York and the City University of New York, all public housing authorities listed in Article 13 of the public housing law, the Department of Corrections and Community Supervision, the Department of Labor, and the New York Division of Military and Naval Affairs. Designating source agencies increases the likelihood that potential voters will be automatically registered, and by making the registration process more accessible, New York can eliminate the first barrier to participating in our elections.

Online Voter Registration for Everyone

The 2019 New York State budget included a provision that will allow registrants to affix an electronic signature to their voter registration form. As of October 2018, 37 states and the District of Columbia offer some form of online voter registration, and the majority of these states have integrated their online voter registration platforms with the DMV. Some states are even beginning to move beyond traditional methods of collecting applicant signatures for voter registration, including electronically affixing a signature, click and dragging a signature, and signing a registration form using a mobile app. Until now, the New York State Board of Elections has only accepted “wet” ink signatures for the purposes of voter registration, with the exception of signatures provided electronically by the DMV. Voters who did not interact with the DMV had to print, sign, and return their completed registration form to their Board of Elections in order to register.

As more states have adopted online registration, it has become an increasingly common way for new voters to register. For example, in the first five days after launching online voter registration, Pennsylvania received 4,100 voter registration applications, an average of one submission every two minutes. Arizona launched online voter registration in 2005, and between 2010 and 2012, over 45 percent of registration applications were received online. Allowing electronic signatures and subsequently an electronic transfer of registration data to local Boards of Election, rather than requiring voters to print, sign, and submit their forms by mail, would provide voters with a more efficient and accessible way to complete and sign their registration forms. This would create a seamless registration process for the voter and would minimize the burden to register to vote.

Same-Day Voter Registration

Every election cycle, there are thousands of voting eligible New Yorkers who miss the registration deadline and are unable to participate. Same-day voter registration (SDR) would eliminate this barrier to voting and allow any qualified New Yorker to register to vote and cast a ballot in one day. For more information on same-day voter registration, check out our previous post here.

Being able to make your voice heard in our elections is key to active participation in our democracy, and our State Legislature needs to do more to make sure that all eligible New Yorkers have more opportunities to register and vote. What do you think of these reforms? Are there any others in particular that you’d be interested in seeing in our state? Sound off in the comments below! 

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