2012-06-13 / Features

Voter Empowerment Act Introduced


State Senator Michael Gianaris, Assemblymember Brian Kavanagh and the Brennan Center for Justice at NYU School of Law introduced the Voter Empowerment Act of New York, a nonpartisan initiative to increase voter participation as the 2012 election season commences. State Senator Michael Gianaris, Assemblymember Brian Kavanagh and the Brennan Center for Justice at NYU School of Law introduced the Voter Empowerment Act of New York, a nonpartisan initiative to increase voter participation as the 2012 election season commences. State Senator Michael Gianaris, Assemblymember Brian Kavanagh and the Brennan Center for Justice at NYU School of Law joined with good government and advocacy groups on June 7 to announce the introduction of the Voter Empowerment Act of New York, a nonpartisan initiative to increase voter participation as the 2012 election season commences. This legislation would amend the election law to update, streamline and make more efficient the voter registration process in New York.

Currently, the single biggest barrier to voting is our antiquated registration system. The proposed bill would improve New York’s voter participation by automatically registering citizens to vote with their consent and updating their registration information when they interact with specific government agencies. It would also computerize the entire registration process, reducing typographical and clerical errors that come with hand-written registration documents and making it easier for eligible voters to register. In addition, it would allow 16- and 17- year-olds to preregister in advance of their 18th birthday, thus incentivizing more voters to go to the polls on Election Day. In 2010, only 36 percent of New York’s citizen voting-age population cast ballots, making the state’s voter registration rate the third worst among states in the country. In an election year, it is crucial for New Yorkers to be reminded of the importance of voter registration and voting whenever possible.

Updating New York’s registration system will remove unnecessary burdens on New Yorkers, ease election administration burdens for the state and county boards of elections, improve the accuracy of the voter rolls, and ultimately increase the number of eligible voters who are registered in the state. The legislation would reduce the number of duplicate or outdated registration records and ensure that fewer eligible voters are left off the voter rolls.

“As election season approaches, government bureaucracy continues to impede too many people from voting,” Gianaris said. “Our proposal would remove these obstacles and maximize voter turnout while saving the state and its counties hundreds of thousands of dollars per election, thus preventing disenfranchisement and enabling better record keeping.”

“When voters try to register, or change their address, or change their party, they often find that the rules prevent them from making the change in a timely way or, worse, that the change doesn’t take and they are excluded from voting,” said Kavanagh, who chairs the Assembly subcommittee with jurisdiction over election operations. “By modernizing the way we collect, process, and store voter information, we can make registration virtually universal among New Yorkers who are eligible to vote.”

“We applaud Senator Gianaris and Assemblymember Kavanagh for taking this much needed step to bring New York’s outdated and error-prone voter registration system into [the] 21st century,” said Director of the Democracy Program at the Brennan Center for Justice Wendy Weiser. “Through this effort, New York will lead the country in having a voter registration system that is accurate, complete and works for all voters.”

The Voter Empowerment Act of New York will achieve the following:

•Automatically register eligible consenting citizens at designated government agencies;

•Permit pre-registration of 16- and 17- year-olds;

•Automatically transfer registrations of New Yorkers who move within the state;

•Provide access to voter registration records and registration of eligible citizens online and;

•Allow people to register or change their party later in the election cycle.

The provision amending voters’ ability to enroll in a party or change their party affiliation is particularly impactful. Currently, when a registered voter seeks to change his or her party enrollment, enroll in a party for the first time, or terminate his or her party enrollment that change does not go into effect until the first Tuesday following a general election. As a result, voters wishing to make such enrollment changes may have to wait more than a year for the changes to be implemented. Under the proposed legislation, changes to party enrollment would take effect 10 days after the date on which the changes were

applied, coinciding with the deadlines for voter registration and simplifying the process for both voters and the Board of Elections.

The Voter Empowerment Act of New York was modeled after the Voter Empowerment Act introduced in the United States House of Representatives. Parts of these measures have been implemented successfully in multiple states across the country, including Arizona, Delaware, Georgia, Kansas, Pennsylvania and Washington. When signed into law, the Voter Empowerment Act of New York would be the most comprehensive state plan implemented to modernize the voter registrationwww.qgazette.system.com

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