Constitutional rights are supposed to be automatic. As an American citizen, they should just come to you.
But when it comes to the right to vote, citizens have to actively sign up before we’re allowed to participate in the democracy at the ballot box.
We have to take action to register, otherwise, government doesn’t let us exercise that right.
In keeping with the way we receive our other rights, New York is about to join 16 other states and the District of Columbia in making voter registration automatic, replacing our archaic and cumbersome old registration system.
Legislation passed by the Senate on Tuesday and the Assembly on Wednesday (A8280/S8806) would allow eligible citizens to be automatically registered to vote, or have their current registration updated, at any state agency where they apply to the government for services.
That includes when you go to obtain or renew your driver’s license at the DMV, apply for Medicaid and unemployment or apply for public housing.
If you meet the age, residency and other legal requirements for voting, you’re automatically registered unless you specifically state that you want to opt out – that you don’t want to be registered to vote.
When you sign your name, the notification is then sent electronically to the state Board of Elections, which then notifies your local Board of Election.
This element will help make registrations more efficient and accurate by eliminating the cumbersome paper application process, providing a steady stream of updated information to state election officials, and helping clean out old and outdated voter rolls.
It will help reduce the chances that a voter is denied the opportunity to vote due to inaccurate or missing registration information.
And it will help reduce instances of voter fraud, which is rare but can occasionally happen.
Another bonus is that with New York’s voter turnout consistently among the lowest in the entire country, this legislation should help increase the number of people who vote — helping make sure elections are truer representations of the people’s wishes.
States that have automatic registration already have indeed seen a significant increase in registration and voting.
When Gov. Andrew Cuomo signs this legislation, more New Yorkers will have an opportunity to exercise their constitutional right to vote, and therefore a better opportunity to participate in our democracy.