Dismal Voter Registration and Turnout Addressed by New York City Council

Holds Hearing on Improving City’s Voter Registration and Absentee Voting Programs
New York, NY – The New York City Council Committee on Governmental Operations held a hearing today to address the City’s dismal voter registration and turnoutnumbers. The legislation discussed improves the distribution and tracking of voterregistration forms, promotes absentee voting, and decreases the barriers to entry for those seeking to register.

"In 2016, New Yorkers will have at least four opportunities to vote: three separate primaries and a general election. Implementing these reforms ahead of the 2016 election will broaden the voter pool and allow more individuals to participate in our democracy,” said Council Member Ben Kallos, chair of the Committee on Governmental Operations.

According to the New York City Campaign Finance Board (CFB), only 20% of eligible New York City voters cast their ballots in the 2014 General Election, an historic low. According to the Unites States Election Project (USEP), New York State had 29% of eligible voters cast their ballots in the 2014 midterms, making the state 49th in the nation for voter participation.

Three introductions and two resolutions were heard:

  • Int. 464 (Wills) directs the Department of Correction to promote absentee voting among eligible individuals who are in jail: pre-trial detainees and those serving misdemeanor sentences.
  • Int. 628 (Kallos) tracks the distribution of voter registration forms by the Department of Education.
  • Int. 796 (Costa) requires agencies participating in the agency-based voterregistration program to assist individuals who wish to fill out the section of thevoter registration form to become organ donors.
  • Res. 695 (Rosenthal) allows 16- and 17-year-olds to pre-register to vote.
  • Res. 848 (Kallos) calls for amending the New York State Constitution and the Election Law to establish same-day and online voter registration.

"Our criminal justice system is disproportionate. Men and women of color who are poor and unable to post bail make up the bulk of the population within our city’s jails. Their hardship is worsened by the loss of their most basic civil right: the right to vote. The laws of our State allow jailed individuals to vote, but the conditions of their confinement hamper their ability to obtain the absentee ballots necessary to do so. My bill, Intro 464, would require the City Department of Correction to encourage and facilitate absentee voting among those in its custody. I thank Council Member Kallos, and my fellow co-sponsors for supporting this bill. The right to vote must be preserved in all settings, including our correctional facilities. In this country, one is innocent until proven guilty, and entitled to all protections under the law. Intro 464 affirms that principle," said Council Member Ruben Wills.

Council Member Costa Constantinides said, "New York State ranks in last place nationwide in percent of residents who are registered organ donors.  Every 18 hours, someone in New York State dies waiting for an organ.  We are in a public health crisis and more needs to be done to encourage people to become organ donors. INT. 796 will use our voter registration program to raise awareness of registering as organ donors and hopefully increase the number of those who sign up.  I thank Council Member Ben Kallos for his support and look forward to working with him as we move forward on this legislation."

"Elections shape our everyday lives but voter turnout in New York State is consistently abysmal and youth voter turnout in New York City is particularly low. As we work to create a government that truly serves everyone, we must engage voters of all ages and particularly young voters. Voter pre-registration for 16- and 17-year-olds is one key step to engaging more young voters in what I hope will be a lifetime of civic participation," said Council Member Helen Rosenthal.
 More information on the hearing can be found on the City Council's website.