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Speaker Heastie: Give 1 Million Black, Latino and Asian New Yorkers The Power of The Vote

Even with recent reforms, New York has a long way to go to improve its substandard participation rate in elections - particularly to include the millions of New Yorkers of color, who are still not registered to vote. But S8572/A9732, the Enhanced Automatic Voter Registration bill, can help give these New Yorkers the power of the ballot - but the Assembly needs to act.

S8572/A9732 would upgrade New York’s “partial” Automatic Voter Registration system, adopting the “Enhanced AVR” features used in 10 states that automates the system by automatically adding clearly eligible voters to the rolls at key target agencies including the Department of Motor Vehicles and the Department of Health.

This bill can make a big difference in helping close New York’s racial voter registration gaps. Based on other states, this bill could bring about 1 million minority New Yorkers into the system - 360,000 Black voters, 400,000 Latino voters, and 200,000 AAPI voters into New York’s elections for the first time, according to the Institute for Responsive Government.

This bill also will help modernize the state’s electoral database, making sure that New Yorkers on the move have their voter registration follow them, instead of the other way around.  Given that 200,000 Black New Yorkers have left New York City in the past two decades because of gentrification and other pressures, this bill helps make sure our elections system uses the most up-to-date information to keep these New Yorkers’ registration current, instead of putting the burden on them to self-report.

This bill is particularly important for our most marginalized community members.  Justice-involved New Yorkers are particularly likely to be unregistered, and in our current system many of them don’t register because they’re understandably unsure about their right to vote.  Enhanced AVR takes the confusion out of the process by automatically registering these New Yorkers if they interact with the DMV or Medicaid.  And for elderly eligible citizens who lack a birth certificate and aren’t registered, this system can seamlessly register them as every Medicaid enrollee has their citizenship status verified against a Federal government database.

Best of all, this bill can give a jump-start to the implementation process of the state’s existing “partial AVR” system that it passed five years ago, by giving millions of New Yorkers a new stake in making sure this system works right.

The good news is that the New York State Senate will likely vote to pass the bill this week. But  the Assembly has not yet taken action and time is running out.  Speaker Heastie and Assembly leadership should prioritize and pass the Enhanced AVR bill, giving a million minority New Yorkers the power of the ballot.

Lurie Daniel-Favors, Esq. is the Executive Director of the Center for Law and Social Justice at Medgar Evers College.

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