New York Sued Over Voter-Registration Cutoff

MANHATTAN (CN) – In the historical home of the suffragette movement, New York’s League of Women Voters sued the state on Election Day, calling out its registration cutoff as an “arbitrary and unnecessary” barrier to the ballot.

In an Election Day ritual that pays homage to the voting rights pioneer, New Yorkers showed up by the dozen on Nov. 6, 2018, to put “I Voted” stickers on the headstone marking Susan B. Anthony’s grave in Rochester, N.Y. (Jessica Crane via AP)

“As a direct result of the voter registration cutoff, many thousands of constitutionally eligible voters in every election cycle are denied their fundamental right to vote,” says the complaint, which attorneys at the American Civil Liberties Union filed in Manhattan Supreme Court.

Though the suit coincided with reports of long lines, malfunctioning machines and closed polling sites for midterm elections Tuesday, its quarry draws from three decades earlier when New York changed its election laws to require that voters register at least 25 days before Election Day.

More than 93,000 New Yorkers could not cast a ballot in the 2016 presidential election because of these requirements, which the lawsuit calls a relic of a different time.

“The public world wide web did not even exist then,” the complaint states. “Administrative rationales that may have supported the Voter Registration Cutoff at that time are no longer valid and are fundamentally undermined by the dramatic advancements in technology that have since been made, not to mention the experiences of numerous other states that have successfully passed laws allowing voters to register and vote on Election Day itself.”

New York regularly reports some of the nation’s lowest voter turnout rates, hobbled by what experts describe as restrictive laws.

The league wants a Manhattan judge to bar the state and New York City Board of Elections from enforcing the voter-registration cutoff, which challenge as unconstitutional.

In 2016, the New York City Comptroller Scott Stringer published a report “Barriers to the Ballot” that proposed eliminating the cut-off as only one of 16 recommended reforms to tackle what had been the state’s historically low voter-turnout rates. Other reforms included same-day and automatic registration, as well as mail-in voting.

New York Attorney General Barbara Underwood pushed for fixes to some of these problems through the New York Votes Act, which some have criticized for upholding the state’s closed primary system.

“NY’s archaic elections systems aren’t just inconvenient – they also undermine our democratic process,” Underwood tweeted on Tuesday. “It’s high time we bring NY into the 21st century with early voting, automatic registration, and much more.”

Tuesday’s elections were a historic day for women, with at least 99 female legislators bound to the House of Representatives in what has been called a #WomensWave. They include Democratic rising star Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez, a Latina breaking barriers as the youngest congresswoman; Ilhan Omar of Minnesota and Rashida Tlaib, the first Muslim-American women in the House; and Sharice Davids of Kansas and Deb Haaland of New Mexico, the first Native Americans serving there.

Fittingly, New Yorkers chose that day to decorate the grave of Susan B. Anthony – who braved arrest in Rochester to secure voting rights for women – with the state’s iconic “I Voted” stickers on Tuesday.

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