2012-08-22 / Features

Gianaris Bill Aims At Boosting Voter Participation

BY JOHN TOSCANO


“I applaud Governor Cuomo for taking an important step towards opening the doors of our democracy to more people.” “I applaud Governor Cuomo for taking an important step towards opening the doors of our democracy to more people.” State Senator Michael Gianaris (D–Astoria) emerged last week as part of a nonpartisan, statewide group answering Governor Andrew Cuomo’s call to increase voter participation as the 2012 election season draws near.

Gianaris and Assemblymember Brian Kavanagh have introduced legislation that would amend the state’s election law to streamline and make more efficient the voter registration process in the state.

Gianaris said in a statement, “I applaud Governor Cuomo for taking an important step towards opening the doors of our democracy to more people. Our voter participation is dreadfully low and online registration will help a great deal.

“There is still more we can do, such as allowing preregistration, automatically registering citizens and changing registration deadlines. These measures are contained in the Voter Empowerment Act of New York introduced by Assemblymember Kavanagh and myself, and I will continue to push for its enactment until the barriers to voting are minimized as much as possible.”

Last Thursday, Cuomo announced a plan for citizens to register to vote online, which is part of the Gianaris-Kavanagh legislation.

Under the plan, it would be necessary for an applicant to have a driver’s license or a non-driver’s identification card to register through the Web site www.my.dmv.ny.gov. They would also be able to change their address and party enrollment.

The governor also made it possible for a person to register to vote and enroll in a party online and still be able to vote in next month’s primaries for state legislative positions, which are set for Thursday, September 13. However, one would have had to act quickly, by last Sunday.

Also the governor had set a deadline for August 17 for in-person registration at Department of Motor Vehicles and Board of Elections offices.

Among the groups backing the long-overdue voting reforms are the highly respected Brennan Center for Justice at NYU School of Law. Wendy Weiser, the Director of the Democracy Program there stated:

“We applaud Senator Gianaris and Assemblymember Kavanagh for taking this much-needed step to bring New York’s outdated and error-prone voter registration system into the 21st century. Through this effort, New York will lead the country in having a voter registration system that is accurate, complete and works for all voters.”

Gianaris said that currently, the single biggest impediment to voting is our antiquated registration system. He explained that the Voter Empowerment Act would improve the state’s voter participation “by automatically registering citizens to vote with their consent and updating their registration information when they interact with specific government agencies.”

Gianaris added, “It would also computerize the entire registration process, reducing typographical and clerical errors that come with handwritten registration documents, and making it easier for eligible voters to register.”

The bill would also allow 16- and 17-year-olds to pre-register in advance of their 18th birthday, thus encouraging more voters to go to the polls on Election Day, the lawmaker said. He also pointed out that, “In 2019, 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 critical for New Yorkers to be reminded of the importance of voter registration and voting whenever possible.”

Gianaris and Kavanagh said that updating the state’s voter registration system would improve efficiency and accuracy among board of elections workers and ultimately increase the number of registered voters in the state.

“As election season approaches,” Gianaris said, “government bureaucracy continues to impede too many people from voting. 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.”

Briefly, the proposed Voter Empowerment Act of New York would:

•Automatically register eligible, consenting citizens at designated government agencies; permit preregistration of 16- and 17-year-olds.

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

•Provide access to voter registration records and register eligible citizens online.

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

Among the do-good organizations backing the Gianaris-Kavanagh bill are: League of Women Voters in New York State, Rock the Vote, New York Civil Liberties Union, Common Cause/NY, New Roosevelt Initiative, New York Public Research Group, New York Immigration Coalition and Reinvent Albany.

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