New York State Senate Passes Automatic Voter Registration Bill

January 10, 2020 by Dan McCue
New York State Sen. Michael Gianaris, sponsor of the automatic voter registration bill.

The New York State Senate on Thursday approved a measure that would automatically register state residents to vote when they file applications at the Departments of Health or Motor Vehicles.

The bill, which passed by a 40-20 vote, builds on election reforms passed during the state’s 2019 legislative session.

“At a time in our country when voting rights are under assault, New York must live up to its potential as a progressive leader,” said the bill’s sponsor, Senate Deputy Leader Michael Gianaris.

“Access to the ballot box should be easy and fair, and enacting automatic voter registration would go a long way towards improving our democracy,” he said.

The passage of the automatic voter registration bill was expected. Lawmakers had planned to pass it last summer, but an earlier version of the bill was found to contain a critical error.

Last year, the New York State Legislature voted to authorize driver’s licenses for immigrants in the country illegally. The original wording of the Gianaris bill would have inadvertently added them to the voting rolls, even though they are prohibited from casting a ballot.

It has been estimated that there are about 1.1 million New Yorkers who are eligible to vote, but remain unregistered.

The passage of the revised legislation comes a day after Democratic Gov. Andrew Cuomo called for automatic voter registration in New York in his annual State of the State address.

He said New Yorkers must affirmatively act to register to vote when interacting with state agencies and said the state should make it easier to get registered.

At least 17 states and the District of Columbia have started or have plans to implement a system in which residents are automatically registered to vote when they have contact with the state, typically at the state’s motor vehicle agency, unless they decline.

“We are proud to once again be a part of passing a historic package of election reforms to modernize voting in New York State,” said Jennifer Wilson, deputy director of the League of Women Voters of New York State, after the Senate vote.

“This package of reforms will further empower voters and ensure maximum voting accessibility in all regions of New York State,” she said.

“It is exciting that the Let NY Vote coalition started 2020 the same way we did in 2019: by standing with the State Senate as our priorities passed,” said Susan Lerner, executive director of Common Cause/NY and co-founder of Let NY Vote.

“Automatic voter registration will streamline the way eligible New Yorkers register to vote, while providing adequate safeguards to protect the most vulnerable populations. Now the Assembly must follow the Senate’s lead and bring New York in line with the 16 other states that already have some form of AVR. We can’t wait, it’s time to let New York vote!” Lerner said.

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