While other states like Texas and Georgia have been taking legal steps to discourage voter participation and exclude citizens from exercising their right to vote, New York on Tuesday took a step in the opposite, positive direction.
Gov. Andrew Cuomo signed the automatic voter registration bill, a long-overdue piece of legislation that has both practical and symbolic value.
Under automatic voter registration, eligible voters are automatically registered to vote whenever they engage with a state agency, such as when they apply for Medicaid, unemployment benefits or public housing or when they register their vehicle. Those who do not wish to be registered must opt out.
From a practical point of view, automatic registration has several advantages.
One is that it will streamline the voter registration process, as registration information will be transmitted to boards of election electronically, reducing paperwork and helping ensure voter rolls are updated and accurate.
About 1.1 million New Yorkers who are eligible to vote are not currently registered. Those in poor and minority communities are often excluded because of the active registration process. Automatic registration will ensure that voting is more accessible to these individuals and that the voter rolls in New York more accurately reflect its diversity.
Many times, people show up at the polls and find out they’re not registered.
This bill will reduce the number of such cases, ensuring more people who want to vote have the legal ability to vote.
Another benefit is that it will help boost voter turnout, where New York consistently ranks toward the bottom of the country. States with automatic registration have seen a complementary increase in turnout to go with the increase in registrations.
When more people vote, the more accurately the outcome of elections reflects the will of the people.
From a symbolic standpoint, it signifies that the state supports the citizens’ right to vote and is actively moving to make voting easier and more accessible to all.
Combined with other major reforms that have already been enacted — including early voting, expanded mail-in voting, pre-registration for 16- and 17-year-olds and other reforms — New York is expanding voting opportunities for its citizens.
That runs counter to efforts in other states to discourage voting through unnecessarily stringent voter ID laws, restricting access to mail-in voting, limiting early voting and making it virtually impossible for those who’ve completed their sentences for crimes to have their voting rights restored.
For too long, New York’s efforts to ensure citizens had access to the polls were woefully inadequate.
On Tuesday, the state took a big state forward in righting that wrong.