Gov. Andrew Cuomo on Tuesday approved a long-sought bill creating a system of automatic voter registration at multiple state agencies in New York.
"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," Cuomo said.
"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. 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."
The new law is meant to expand voter registration in the state and make it easier to do so when a person interacts with a state agency like the Department of Motor Vehicles.
For example, when a person fills out an application for a driver's license, it will be integrated with an application to register to vote. Only eligible voters can register and applications sent to the state Board of Elections with the signature and consent of the applicant.
"I am proud to be the prime sponsor of this monumental election reform bill," said Assemblywoman Latrice Walker, the Assembly sponsor of the legislation.
"New York's antiquated voter registration system is in dire need of updating and modernization. It is time for New York to join the growing number of states who have implemented Automatic Voter Registration. This bill will remove one of many barriers in our election system to help New York improve its dismal record of voter turnout. 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."
Opposition to the measure in the Legislature had stemmed in part over concerns undocumented immigrants would be eligible to register to vote under the measure; lawmakers in support of the new law have pointed to safeguards in the legislation and existing law that would prevent that from happening.
The changes will be phased in by state agency: The Motor Vehicle process will come online in 2023, the Department of Health, Labor and Office of Temporary and Disability Assistance in 2024. The State University of New York will come online in 2025.
"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 Sen. Michael Gianaris. "Access to the ballot box should be easy and fair, and enacting Automatic Voter Registration will go a long way towards improving voter participation. I am proud and thankful that the Governor has signed this bill, paving the way for over a million more New Yorkers to vote."
The measure is the latest election law change approved in recent years that are designed to make it easier to vote in New York, including a system of early voting in advance of Election Day.
Updated: This story has been updated to include a statement from Assemblywoman Latrice Walker.