In what civil liberties advocates called a clear victory for democracy, New York Democratic Gov. Andrew Cuomo on Tuesday signed legislation requiring state agencies to establish an automatic voter registration system, which is expected to not only making voting easier but also expand the electorate.
"Gov. Cuomo brought voting one step closer to the 21st century by signing automatic voter registration into law, a long awaited and long overdue victory for democracy in New York," said New York Civil Liberties Union executive director Donna Lieberman. "Automatic voter registration will make it easier for eligible New Yorkers to participate in the electoral process and make their voices heard at the ballot box."
"New York has had one of the worst voter registration and turnout rates in the nation AVR should change that," she noted. "At a time when some states are doubling down on measures to suppress the vote, Albany must continue to go further in the upcoming legislative session to make voting accessible to all eligible New Yorkers."
State Sen. Michael Gianaris, who authored the bill, also applauded Cuomo's move, thanking him for "paving the way for over a million more New Yorkers to vote."
"At a time in our country when voting rights are under assault, New York is living up to our potential as a progressive leader," said Gianaris, a Democrat. "Access to the ballot box should be easy and fair, and enacting automatic voter registration will go a long way towards improving voter participation."
Sean Morales-Doyle, deputy director of the Voting Rights and Elections Program at the Brennan Center for Justice at New York University Law, also highlighted how the law could increase the number of people in the state who participate in future elections.
"New Yorkers want to make their voices heard in our democracy—just look at the record numbers who voted in November. For too long, though, New York has made it unnecessarily difficult to register to vote, silencing many potential voters," Morales-Doyle said.
"An estimated 1.1 million New Yorkers are eligible to vote but not registered," he added. "By signing automatic voter registration into law, Gov. Cuomo has put the state on a path to a stronger, more inclusive democracy. Many more New Yorkers will have a say in the direction of their communities, their state, and their country."
With the governor's signature, New York becomes the 20th state, plus the District of Columbia, to enact an AVR system, according to the National Conference of State Legislatures. The New York law directs the Department of Motor Vehicles and other state agencies that interact directly with residents to work with the State Board of Elections on a new application for services that will include voter registration.
Democratic Assembly Member Latrice M. Walker, who spearheaded the "landmark legislation" in her chamber, explained that "this modernized voter registration system automatically transmits voter registration information from some of our most utilized state and local government agencies. This will reduce costs involved in processing voter registrations and maintaining updated and accurate voter registration lists."
Walker also thanked the governor, who said in a statement Tuesday that "the right to vote is one of, if not the most, sacred pillars of our democracy and for too long, bureaucratic red tape has made it unnecessarily difficult for New Yorkers to exercise this right."
"From instituting early voting to making necessary reforms to the absentee ballot process, New York has already made elections more accessible, but we are far from finished," Cuomo said. "With this new law on the books, we are taking this work a step further and not only instituting automatic voter registration, but creating a single uniform platform for registering online."
As Common Dreams previously reported, while New York was once considered a "national laughingstock" on voting rights, last year state lawmakers passed and Cuomo signed an electoral reform package that included early voting; the consolidation of state and federal primaries to one day; same-day registration; pre-registration for teenagers; portable registration; and "no excuse" absentee voting.
Reporting on the AVR development Tuesday, Gothamist noted that "with the start of the next legislative session fast approaching in January, Democratic lawmakers have already signaled they intend to continue to push for more reform of the state's election law, with bills to speed the counting of absentee ballots, expand the number of early voting sites, and an oversight hearing to examine the structure and function of the State Board of Elections and its local counterparts expected early next year."