Automatic voter registration is one step closer to becoming law

State Sen. Michael Gianaris sponsored the bill to establish automatic voter registration in New York. AP Photo/Hans Pennink.

State Sen. Michael Gianaris sponsored the bill to establish automatic voter registration in New York. AP Photo/Hans Pennink.

By Victoria Merlino

A bill that would automatically register New York residents to vote upon interaction with various state and local government agencies passed in the State Senate on June 19, bringing it one step closer to becoming law in New York and potentially removing a significant barrier to voter registration.

The legislation, sponsored by Western Queens State Sen. Michael Gianaris, would work to boost voter turnout in the state, which has one of the lowest voter turnout rates in the country. Voting justice advocates consider automatic voter registration, or AVR, a key for ensuring access to the polls.

“At a time in our country when voting rights are under assault, New York must live up to its reputation as a progressive leader,” Gianaris said in a statement. “Access to the ballot box should be easy and fair.”

Agencies like the Department of Motor Vehicles, the Office of Children and Family Services, the Department of Health, Department of Veterans Services and Military Affairs, the Department of Labor and more will be able to automatically register residents that use their services to vote, unless the resident specifically opts out.

The idea behind AVR is that interacting with certain governmental agencies, like getting a license at the DMV, requires personal information that could easily allow the resident to register to vote, according to an op-ed on the subject Gianaris and Data for Progress’ Sean McElwee wrote in the Gotham Gazette.

A report by the Brennan Center for Justice found that every state that has implemented AVR has experienced higher voter turnout.

“As we’ve said from the beginning: automatic voter registration works. It’s that simple,” said Myrna Pérez, deputy director of the Brennan Center’s Democracy Program. “We should be making it as easy as possible for eligible citizens to vote, and that begins with getting registered.”

New York has one of the most antiquated voting systems in the country, and ballot machine breakdowns and long lines have plagued the New York City and Queens for the past few election cycles. The Board of Elections added more early voting sites to Queens earlier this year in an attempt to boost turnout and repair issues.

For the law to go into effect, it will still need to be passed by the State Assembly and signed by Gov. Andrew Cuomo.