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Despite Low Turnout, NY Voter Registration Changes Unlikely

Monday, June 11, 2012 - 10:24 AM

In an effort to bring more voters to the polls, politicians and activists are proposing to make the voter registration process easier. But the legislative session ends in June 19, leaving little time for the proposal to be passed or be in effect in time for the election in November.

“This is the moment when people are most conscious of how difficult it is to interact with the system,” said Assembly member Brian Kavanagh, one of the drafters of the proposal.

New York ranks among the lowest states with voter turnouts. In 2010, only 35 percent voted according to a George Mason University study.

The proposal would allow people to register online, allow voters to change their address and party more easily, and pre-register teenagers before their 18th birthdays. Voter registration now requires eligible voters – those over 18 and not currently in jail or on parole – to mail their registration forms or register in person. The proposal would also allow people to change parties later in an election year. The existing policy doesn't allow late party changes to be in effect until the Tuesday after the next general election.

These changes could help New York City’s low voter turnout numbers.

“New York City had lower voter turnout in the presidential elections in 2008 than any other major city in the country,” said Amy Loprest, executive director of the Campaign Finance Board said. “While I don’t think any jurisdiction would say that they have great voter turnout, I think that New York has a particular problem.”

The board published a new report that identified men, young adults, married couples and those born abroad as less likely to turn out and vote.

The report cited lack of education, access to polls, mobility, language problems and lack of community involvement as deterrents to voting. Access problems can be exacerbated in a city like New York, where voters’ addresses change often and voter registration deadlines can be discouraging.

“Areas that have high residential turnover, with people moving in and out, have lower turnout,” explained Loprest. “This is really, really important in New York City because 12 percent of New York voting age residents move every single year.”

Wendy Weiser from the Brennan Center for Justice said a study from MIT and Harvard University that said registration problems prevented 2.2 million people from voting.

Michael McDonald from the Brookings Institution and George Mason University compiles voter turnout statistics from each election. He says the proposed changes in voter registration would most likely add a small number of voters to the polls, but it has other added benefits.

“Best way to get turnout is to hold an interesting election that doesn’t mean we shouldn’t try to get people to vote in other ways,” he said. “It’s a small effect that is a benefit to severely disadvantaged communities. Although it’s a small benefit it’s an important benefit.”

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