Legislation Aims to Revamp NY’s Troubled Voting System

MANHATTAN (CN) — With voter turnout at an all-time low in the state, New York Attorney General Eric Schneiderman announced the introduction of legislation Wednesday that will purportedl ease barriers to registration, voting and ballot access.

The New York Votes Act takes aim at several of the problems identified last year by the state comptroller, in a report published at the height of the presidential primary season.

Although New York prides itself as the birthplace of women’s suffrage, Comptroller Scott Stringer found at the time that the state suffers from “one of the lowest rates in the nation” of voters filling out actual ballots.

Schneiderman followed suit in December with a report on the thousands turned away from the polls this primary season. Just 21 percent of the eligible New Yorkers cast ballots in the April primaries, the attorney general found.

Both Stringer and Schneiderman attributed these failures to similar flaws with New York election law.

New York does not allow for early voting, has inadequate access to translators, and does not currently have automatic, online or same-day registration.

The legislation Schneiderman touted Wednesday was brought to the Legislature this morning by Staten Island Assemblyman Michael Cusick. Nine fellow Democrats have co-sponsored the bill.

“This legislation, aimed to simplify the voting process and improve voter accessibility, will give citizens a better opportunity to participate in the democratic process by increasing voter participation across New York State,” Cusack said in a statement.

In 1848, suffragist icon Elizabeth Cady Stanton helped organize a convention of hundreds that ended in the signing of the Declaration of Sentiments in Seneca Falls, New York, which became a seminal document in the U.S. women’s rights movement.

Schneiderman held a press conference this morning on the bill at Federal Hall on Wall Street.

“In many ways, the United States of America began on this spot,” he said of the locale. “The nation’s first capital was here. The first U.S. Congress convened here, and George Washington was inaugurated here.”

The U.S. capital was relocated to Washington, D.C., before Thomas Jefferson’s inauguration, after moving from New York to Philadelphia before that upon Washington’s re-election in 1792.

In recent years, Schneiderman noted, New York and other states across the nation have faced laws putting barriers to the ballot.

“Democracy itself is under attack,” he said. “Now, that is unconscionable, and it is un-American.”

Calling for his state to take the lead, Schneiderman said: “New York has long been a bastion of democracy and has been a leader in many progressive causes, but our state’s current system of registration and voting is an affront to that legacy.”

The New York Assembly members co-sponsoring the bill are Brian Kavanagh, Latrice Walker, Daniel O’Donnell, Thomas Abinanti, Sandy Galef, David Buchwald, Barbara Lifton, Kenneth Zebrowski and Robert Carroll.