This year, our country experienced a revolution in the way votes are cast. From mail-in ballots to early voting, New Yorkers voted in new ways and at extraordinary numbers. Everyone wins when the democratic process is made more accessible to all.
Over the last two years, the New York State Legislature has taken swift action to address archaic voting laws. We’ve enacted early voting, aligned state and federal elections, given 16- and 17-year-olds the ability to preregister to vote, and ensured that a voter’s registration seamlessly transfers when they move residences, among many other reforms.
There are a whole range of common sense reforms that must be done, but only one solution is sitting on the governor’s desk: automatic voter registration, or AVR.
Currently, the onus for participation in New York’s electoral system rests in the hands of individuals who have to set aside time and effort to register. Even once they enter the system, unforeseen problems can arise – like massive purges by local Boards of Election that have wrongly removed thousands of lawful voters from the rolls. The voter registration process itself is a form of disenfranchisement.
Automatic voter registration tears down unnecessary barriers facing voters. Eligible voters become automatically registered whenever they interact with government agencies like the Department of Motor Vehicles, a housing authority or Medicaid office, assuming they do not opt out of the system. AVR would eliminate the perennial confusion on Election Day about missing names in polling books.
According to NYU’s Brennan Center for Justice, if AVR is signed into law, an estimated one million eligible voters would be automatically registered.
Seventeen states have enacted automatic voter registration, including three of our neighboring states. The lessons from those states are instructive. Right now, New York ranks 45th in the country for voter registration as a share of the voting population. Approximately 40% of New Yorkers are not registered to vote.
Automatic voter registration produced massive increases in the percentage of registered voters in many states, including a 47% boost in Rhode Island and an astounding 94% increase in Georgia.
This year, we were proud to join our colleagues in overwhelmingly voting for automatic voter registration. Now Gov. Andrew M. Cuomo must sign this critical reform into law. From Buffalo to Binghamton to Brooklyn, we can improve our state’s democratic integrity by giving every New Yorker the voice they deserve.
Tim Kennedy represents the 63rd State Senate District. Assembly Majority Leader Crystal Peoples-Stokes represents the 141st Assembly District.
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