Online Voter Registration to Pass New York City Council

Online Voter Registration to Pass New York City Council
 New York, NY– Following a historic low in voter turnout in New York City’s 2017 General Election for municipal offices, the New York City Council Committee on Governmental Operations today passed legislation to implement online voter registration. The legislation is slated for passage by the New York City Council on November 16. Relying on an opinion by New York State Attorney General Eric Schneiderman which allows online voter registration by localities, Council Member Ben Kallos authored the legislation, which will require the City’s Campaign Finance Board to create and maintain a secure website and mobile app allowing New York City residents to register to vote online.
 
Thirty-six states and the District of Columbia offer limited forms of online voter registration according to the National Conference of State Legislatures. New York currently only allows residents with a Department of Motor Vehicles (DMV) driver license, learner permit or non-driver identification to register online. However many residents of color cannot use New York State’s only online voter registration system as Hispanics are twice as likely as Whites to not have identification (10%) and Blacks are more than two and half times as likely as Whites not to have identification (13%) according to Project Vote.
 
New York State Attorney General Eric T. Schneiderman paved the way for this legislation to pass in April of 2016 when he issued and Informal Opinion to Suffolk County officials advising that “online voter registration, including use of electronically affixed handwritten signatures is legal in New York State.”
 
Attorney General Eric T. Schneiderman said, “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. The bill sponsored by Councilman Kallos marks a key step forward in the fight for more accessible elections, allowing New York City to begin to bring our electoral process into the 21st century. My office will continue to fight to expand voting rights for all New Yorkers.”
 
“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,” said Council Member Ben Kallos, a longtime voting rights activist and free and open source software developer. “Barriers to registration must be removed so that anyone who is eligible to register can do so quickly and easily.”
 
As a proof of concept, Council Member Kallos built a working demonstration in a couple of hours using the same Drupal free and open source software used by the White House with the Webform moduleavailable for anyone to test taking a picture of their signature with a feature phone or using their finger or a stylus to digitally sign at BenKallos.nyc/form/webform-voter-registration
 
Among the reasons residents do not register to vote, 27% “intend to register, but haven’t gotten around to it” and 9% responded “it’s not convenient,” according to the Pew Charitable Trusts. Arizona, the pioneer in online voter registration, now has over 70% of registrations occurring online, with 94% of online registrants actually voting, compared with 85% who registered on the old paper system according to the Scholars Strategy Network.

“I am pleased to have had the opportunity to introduce and work with Councilman Kallos on similar legislation nearly ten years ago during his time as my chief of staff when I served in the New York State Assembly,” said former Assembly Member Jonathan L. Bing who authored A.11167 introduced in 2008. “This bill will allow easier access to voter registration for all New Yorkers, especially young people who were raised in the age of electronic communication but did not turn out at the polls in our recent Citywide elections.  Councilman Kallos should be commended for this measure to enhance voter access and all his efforts to improve the ways that government should be working for the people.”
 
“Councilmember's Kallos' bill will establish the platform to enable voters to register to vote online, which Reinvent Albany believes is currently permissible under state law.  The Council's passage of this bill importantly affirms that belief, which is also shared by Attorney General Schneiderman's Office,” said Alex Camarda, Senior Policy Consultant at Reinvent Albany. “It is now incumbent on the City Board of Elections to make known it will accept digitally signed voter registration forms and make voter registration easier for all New Yorkers.”
 
“Online voter registration for NYC is an idea whose time has come,” said Neal Rosenstein, Government Reform Coordinator for the New York Public Interest Research Group, NYPIRG.  “New Yorker 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.”
 
“Online voter registration is a major step towards updating the way New Yorkers participate in the election process. Citizens Union has long advocated for this change as a way to improve New York's poor voter turnout rate while making it easier for all communities to register. We urge the New York City Board of Elections to swiftly take the necessary steps to implement this important piece of legislation,” said Rachel Bloom, Director of Public Policy and Programs at Citizens Union.
 
“Improving voter engagement starts with voter access, and New Yorkers expect to be able to sign up online to participate. Offering the convenience of online voter registration to all City residents is a critical first step toward modernizing our voting laws and making our democracy more accessible,” said Jarret Berg, Executive Director of the New York Democratic Lawyers Council.
 
“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 of the New Kings Democrats.
 
“For decades, the right has tried to make it as difficult as possible to vote. Under Trump, those efforts have only intensified. We need to make voting as easy as possible for working families and every eligible voter in New York, and online voting registration is a major step in that direction,” said Bill Lipton, New York State Director, Working Families Party.
 
“Expanding online voter registration for New Yorkers without a DMV-issued ID is a key step towards increasing civic participation amongst immigrants in New York City and all New Yorkers. The New York Immigration Coalition thanks the New York City Council for its work to enfranchise more New Yorkers and to promote civic engagement for all,” said Murad Awawdeh, vice president of advocacy at New York Immigration Coalition.

“Making it easier to vote is one of the simplest and best ways to strengthen our democracy and our city.  Online voter registration will empower thousands of New Yorkers in just the first year — congratulations are due to all who helped move it forward,” said Charles Khan, Organizing Director for Strong Economy For All Coalition.
 
“Online voter registration will make voting so much easier for thousands of New Yorkers.  This will encourage people who get inspired by an election to register and vote,” said Harvey Epstein, a Director at the Urban Justice Center. “I applaud Councilmember Kallos and the other co-sponsors for such a sensible bill.”

“Voter enfranchisement continues to be a critical issue as legislators and advocates grapple with the growing challenge of engaging the public and increasing voter turnout,” said Council Member Donovan Richards, co-chair of the Progressive Caucus. “Creating an online voter registration is a clear cut means to simplifying this process and increasing voter participation. It is about time we introduce the voter registration process to the 21st century.”

“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 Council Member Antonio Reynoso, Co-Chair of the Progressive Caucus.

"A representative democracy is only as strong as the ability of it's voters to participate. It is our duty as public servants to provide our constituents with the tools to amplify their voice in all levels of government. This legislation is a welcomed addition," said Council Member Ritchie Torres, member of the Progressive Caucus.

"Enabling New Yorkers to register to vote on-line makes incredible good sense. Turning around our abysmal voter turn-out rates has to be a top priority if we want a fully functional democracy. I applaud Council Member Kallos for pushing forward this critical legislation. We should consider every possible option to increase New Yorkers' participation at the ballot box," said Council Member Helen Rosenthal, member of the Progressive Caucus.

"The ability to vote is the bedrock of our democracy and we should give New Yorkers every opportunity to register to vote. 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. I am proud to support this bill and thank Council Member Kallos for introducing this important legislation,” said Council Member Stephen Levin, member of the Progressive Caucus.
 
“I applaud City Council Member Ben Kallos and the City Council for passing online voter registration in New York City. This bill is a meaningful step towards modernizing our elections in the city and state. I look forward to working in the City Council on additional measures to improve voting, elections, and civic participation,” said Council Member-elect Keith Powers.
 
The legislation requires the New York City Campaign Finance Board (CFB) to provide a secure website and mobile app that allows residents in New York City who are qualified to vote to register by providing required information and providing a signature electronically. The CFB would print the information onto a voter registration form with an electronically affixed signature and transmit the printed voter registration form to the New York City Board of Elections within 2 weeks or within 5 days prior to a registration deadline. The online voter registration system would provide required notices, timeframes, and deadlines for registrations as well as how to confirm registration. Electronic signature would be required to be accepted from a picture or scan of a signature as well as a touch or stylus interface. The CFB would also be able to use signatures already provided to other city agencies including the NYC ID. An application program interface (API) would also be available for third party developers to create voter registration applications or integrate voter registration into existing applications. 
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