Proposed legislation that would automatically register New Yorkers to vote has passed in the Senate on Jan. 9, and is now awaiting approval from the Assembly.
The law, known as the New York Automatic Voter Registration (AVR) Act of 2020, would establish an automatic electronic voter registration process integrated into “designated agency applications.” The bill specifically cites the Department of Motor Vehicles (DMV) and the Department of Health (DOH) as agencies “participating in AVR.” The Senate passed the bill with 40 votes in favor and only 20 against.
Currently, 16 states and Washington D.C. have approved some form of the AVR law with Oregon being the first, in 2016.
“Particularly at a time when many states have enacted restrictive voting laws and voter turnout has hit record lows, AVR is a needed reform,” according to the Brennan Center for Justice.
Additionally, Assemblyman Kevin Cahill, D-Kingston has expressed his support for the bill.
“AVR will increase accuracy of voter rolls and keep voters from falling into inactive status and possibly being expunged,” according to Cahill’s End of Year 2019 Report to the People. “Thus, eliminating affidavit ballots, extra mailings as well as court orders and ultimately save boards of elections and taxpayers money.”
If the bill is passed by the Assembly, it then must be signed by Cuomo to officially become a law.
According to New York Public Interest Research Group Coordinator Eric Wood, in 2018 New York had a Voting Eligible Population (VEP) of 13.8 million, which includes citizens who are 18 and not “incarcerated for a felony.”
However, for that same year, the New York State Board of Elections had only 12.7 million eligible New York residents listed as active or inactive voters, meaning approximately 1 million New Yorkers are not registered to vote.
Under the bill, the DMV and the DOH will provide voter registration applications integrated into applications for agency services, such as name and address changes. However, the individual would still be allowed to opt out of registering.
The bill has sparked concern among some New York residents who are worried that this law would give the right to vote to those who are ineligible to vote, specifically undocumented immigrants.
According to Wood, a previous version of this bill was “held up last session because of a typo that actually would have enrolled non-citizens on the voting rolls.” However, the amended bill uses “new safe harbor language” to prevent these participating agencies from transferring applications to “prospective” people who may not be eligible to vote.
“Anytime a citizen interacts with a government agency, whether that’s getting a license at the DMV, registering for classes in a public college or university, signing up for health insurance coverage, or updating an address at the post office, voter registration info should be updated electronically and automatically,” Wood said. “This fundamental shift could add large numbers of eligible voters to the rolls, bringing more voices into state elections and ensuring everyone has the opportunity to be heard.”