City Council looks at easing online voter registration

Brooklyn’s New Kings Democrats Club endorses idea

November 15, 2017 By Paula Katinas Brooklyn Daily Eagle
Mayor Bill de Blasio easily won re-election on Election Day, but the low voter turnout, less than 24 percent, has increased calls to make it easier for residents to register to vote online. The mayor is pictured at City Hall the day after his victory at the polls. AP Photo/Kathy Willens
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In the wake of the abysmally low turnout in the Nov. 7 mayoral election, the City Council is poised to approve a bill to make it easier for first-time voters to register online.

The council’s Committee on Governmental Operations voted to pass legislation sponsored by Councilmember Ben Kallos (D-Upper East Side) that would require the New York City Campaign Finance Board (CFB) to create a secure website and mobile app for residents who want to register to vote online.

The bill is scheduled for a vote by the full council on Nov. 16. 

Less than 25 percent of the city’s eligible voters showed up at the polls on Nov. 7, according to various media reports.

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Currently, New York only allows residents with a Department of Motor Vehicles (DMV) driver’s license, learner’s permit or non-driver identification to register online. 

The new bill would allow any eligible voter to register online. 

“Democracy should be a click away. We are used to filling out forms online with the click of a mouse and voter registration should be no different. You should be registered and receive a confirmation by email, just as with any other website,” Kallos said in a statement. 

Brooklyn political activists and elected officials were quick to praise the bill.

“This long-overdue reform is a great first step to making it finally easier to participate in our democracy. New York should be leading the pack on having an innovative and inclusive civic space, instead we lag far behind. Hopefully we can reverse this trend in low turnout and do so quickly,” said Brandon West, vice president for policy for the New Kings Democrats, a progressive political club in Brooklyn.

“In the Dominican Republic, everyone becomes automatically registered to vote when they turn 18.  Yet in New York, you have to go out of your way to register.  Online registration will make voting easier and more accessible, to ensure that everyone can access their right to participate,” said Councilmember Antonio Reynoso (D-Bushwick), co-chair of the Council’s Progressive Caucus.

“At a time when around the country people are being turned away from the ballot box, we need to do the opposite. Voting is a right; let’s give it the consideration it deserves,” said Councilmember Stephen Levin (D-Greenpoint-DUMBO-downtown Brooklyn), a Progressive Caucus member.

Voting rights advocates are also supportive of the proposed legislation.

“Online voter registration for NYC is an idea whose time has come. New Yorkers across the state with driver’s licenses can already register online through the DMV. It’s time for city residents, subway and bus riders to be able to do the same,” said Neal Rosenstein, government reform coordinator for the New York Public Interest Research Group (NYPIRG).

State Attorney General Eric T. Schneiderman brought attention to the issue last year when he issued an informal opinion to officials in Suffolk County advising that online voter registration is legal in New York state.

“The right to vote is the right that protects all other rights. Any law that makes it easier for New Yorkers to vote is a good law, any law that makes it harder to vote is a bad law. Yet New York’s current voting system is an affront to the values of democracy on which this state was built. My office will continue to fight to expand voting rights for all New Yorkers,” Schneiderman stated.
In addition to the secure website, CFB would be required under the bill to provide voters with a mechanism for an electronic signature on the registration form. 

CFB would also be able to use signatures already provided to other city agencies including NYC ID cards.

After the voter registers online, CFB would print the information onto a voter registration form with an electronically affixed signature and then transmit the printed voter registration form to the New York City Board of Elections.


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