Last year, The Atlantic said New York state had the “worst-in-the-country voting system.” But all that may be about to change if S. 1278 — automatic voter registration — passes the full assembly.
Activist Sean McElwee tweeted Thursday afternoon that S. 1278, which would implement an automatic voter registration system throughout the state of New York, easily passed the state senate by a vote of 43-19. It now awaits action in the Assembly Rules Committee, where McElwee says it’s likely to pass.
— we’re going to pass AVR 🍉🍉 (@SeanMcElwee) June 19, 2019
The fact that New York could become the 17th state to adopt automatic voter registration (Maine became the 16th state to do so on Thursday) is big news for New Yorkers, as the Empire State is notorious for its barriers to voting. In 2018, The Atlantic‘s assessment of New York as the worst state in the country to vote is based on what the outlet describes as “clumsily designed ballots. An antiquated registration process. Confusing deadlines and outdated laws. Long lines and no early voting.”
Only 57 percent of eligible voters cast a ballot in the 2016 presidential election, ranking the Empire State 41st in the nation for turnout. In the last midterm election, turnout statewide hit an abysmal 34 percent, almost the lowest in the country. In New York City, just 12 percent of eligible voters showed up for the 2017 mayoral primary.
The problem isn’t energy or enthusiasm: New Yorkers are as tuned into politics as anyone. The problem is the system.
In addition to New York requiring voters to stamp and mail paper forms in order to register or switch parties, New York also requires voters re-submit all of their information anytime they move to a different county, according to The Atlantic. This means someone who moves from Brooklyn (Kings County) to the Bronx (Bronx County) or to Queens (Queens County) has to go through the rigamarole of filling out, stamping, and mailing forms just in order to be able to vote.
Changing party affiliation — as many Independents had to do in closed primary states like New York in order to vote for Senator Bernie Sanders (I-Vermont) — is also incredibly difficult in the Empire State. The deadline for changing party affiliation in New York for the state’s Democratic presidential primary was October 9, 2015 — before most Americans had even heard of Sanders, as the deadline was before the first Democratic presidential debate.
Under an automatic voter registration system, New Yorkers would automatically be opted into voter registration whenever they visited a local Department of Motor Vehicles (DMV) office. If they did not wish to be registered, citizens would have the option to opt out of registration. This would likely increase voter turnout by a substantial margin. Oregon Governor Kate Brown (D) credited her state’s automatic voter registration system with the increase in midterm election turnout between 2014, in which there was 43% turnout, and 2018, when turnout was at 60%.
Should the New York Assembly pass automatic voter registration, it would result in more than 15 million New Yorkers being registered to vote, assuming Census figures estimating that 80% of New York’s 19.5 million residents are 18 and up are correct.
Tom Cahill is a contributor for Grit Post who covers political and economic news. He lives in Bend, Oregon. Send him an email at tom DOT v DOT cahill AT gmail DOT com.