The New York State Bar Association today called for modernizing the state’s voter registration process and allowing New Yorkers to cast ballots a few days before the traditional Election Day.
Testifying before the Assembly Committee on Election Law, State Bar President David P. Miranda called voting “one of our most fundamental rights.”
“However, the rate of voter participation in New York State is frequently ranked among the lowest in the nation. Measures to remove barriers to registration and voting and to encourage participation—while maintaining the integrity of the process—could go a long way to improve civic engagement and enhance our democracy,” he said.
The State Bar’s proposals stem from the 2013 report of its Special Committee on Voter Participation, which was appointed by then-President Seymour W. James, Jr. The 21-member committee of attorneys was composed of 10 Republicans, 10 Democrats and one Independent. John Nonna, a member of the committee, joined Miranda at the Assembly hearing.
“The report’s primary conclusion is that the state of New York needs to modernize its system for registering voters,” Miranda said. “If implemented, such modernization would result in a significant increase in voter participation. Such a change would also promise increased efficiency and accuracy in the voter rolls and a reduction in cost.”
Among the State Bar proposals to modernize registration:
• Permit New Yorkers to register to vote when they engage in a transaction with a state agency. Such opportunities should be “affirmatively offered.” Voters would be required to provide appropriate identification and their signatures.
• Permit voter registration online. On Election Day, these individuals would be required to provide appropriate identification and their signatures.
• Allow 16- and 17-year-olds to pre-register to vote on a voluntary basis. “New Yorkers aged 18 to 24 have the lowest rate of registration in the state. The experience in other states and countries indicates that pre-registration of students before they reach 18 will significantly increase voter participation in that younger age group,” the report notes.
• Allow New Yorkers to register to vote on the same day they go to the polls. “The evidence is that such a practice, which is now used in several other states, will in itself increase registration and with it voter turnout,” the report said. Doing this in New York would require amending the state Constitution.
The State Bar Association also proposes extending Election Day by a few days, giving voters additional options for showing up at the polls in person.
“The practice of affording voters the option of voting in person earlier than Election Day has proven to be extremely popular in other states and we would expect it to be welcomed by those in New York,” he said.
The Bar Association also recommends streamlining ballot design to minimize clutter and voter confusion; enhanced training for polling place workers; and raising the criminal penalties for deceptive election practices and voter registration fraud.
“It is very difficult to dispute the fact that New York election law has not kept up with developments in the rest of the country regarding the exercise of the right to vote and voting procedures,” Nonna observed. “Coupled with the fact that voter turnout in New York that tends to be among the lowest in the nation, the need for legislative change becomes pretty obvious.”
In concluding, Miranda told lawmakers, “We believe that, if implemented, the changes we recommend would have a very significant impact on voter participation, bringing New York’s rates of registration and voter participation up to levels above 80 percent within a few years is an attainable goal if the changes we recommend are implemented. “
The 74,000-member New York State Bar Association is the largest voluntary state bar association in the nation. It was founded in 1876.
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