Expanded Agency-Based Voter Registration Passes City Council


November 25, 2014
 CONTACT: Sarah Anders
SAndersatBenKallos [dot] com

(212) 860-1950 (o)
(617) 279-3964 (c)

Expanded Agency-Based Voter Registration Passes City Council
New York, NY --  An Expanded Agency-Based Voter Registration bill passed the City Council today. The bill adds seven more agencies to those required to provide voter registration forms and strengthens the mandate to assist residents in filling out and mailing the registration forms to the Board of Elections. 

New York State’s Pro-Voter Law, passed in 2000, required 18 agencies to keep the forms and did not mandate agencies to actively assist residents. 
An additional bill, sponsored by Council Member Jumaane Williams, to improve reporting and compliance with the 2000 law, also passed the Council.

Agencies have failed to consistently comply with that law, according to “A Broken Promise: Agency-Based Voter Registration in New York City,” a report from the Center for Popular Democracy, Citizens Union, Brennan Center, NYPIRG and Asian American Legal Defense and Education Fund. The expanded City Council legislation adds new compliance deadlines:

•    60 days for existing agencies to comply with offering registration assistance and mailing forms back to the Board of Elections.
•    One year for new agencies to comply with the law.
•    Finally, a December 2015 deadline to a stipulation of the 2000 Pro-Voter Law requiring that agencies integrate their forms with voter registration forms.

Only two thirds of eligible New Yorkers have up-to-date voter registration, while less than 30% of eligible New Yorkers turn out to vote-- a consistently lower participation rate than other major cities.

Agency-Based Voter Registration 
has been shown to help 15-20% of those applying for city services to register when effectively administered. Mayor Bill de Blasio’s Directive 1, issued on July 11, 2014, ordered agencies to report on their compliance with the 2000 pro-voter law and provide semi-annual reports on implementation.

“Every time a New Yorker interacts with government, they should be empowered to participate in their democracy,” said Council Member Ben Kallos, Chair of the Committee on Governmental Operations of the New York City Council. “Voting is the bedrock of our community: It is how we as New Yorkers demand our rights and make our voices heard. The Expanded Agency-Based Voter Registration Law will take us one step closer to the goal of every eligible New Yorker being registered to vote.”

"Voter participation in New York is at an all-time low and more must be done to make voter registration more accessible," said Council Member Jumaane D. Williams (D-Brooklyn), Deputy Leader and Chair of the Council's Housing and Buildings Committee. "Government has a responsibility to maximize the potential of voter turnout, which is why I'm proud the Council has passed this important pro-voter bill. Intro 356, which I sponsored, will improve pro-voter law compliance from city agencies by requiring them to produce and deliver a semi-annual report including the number of voter registration forms distributed, completed and transmitted to the NYC Board of Elections from each agency. I would like to thank the Speaker and Chair of the Committee on Governmental Affairs Ben Kallos for pushing this important bill. It is my hope that by 2016, voter turnout has improved not just in New York City but across the country."

“I am happy to support Intro 493 which would expand access to voter registration. It is important that we make it simple for eligible people to register to vote. By expanding agency-based voter registration to additional city agencies, we will make great strides towards that goal,” said Deputy Leader, Councilman Vincent Gentile.

Council Member Costa Constantinides (D-Astoria) said, "As a city founded on democracy, we must encourage civic participation by all.  That's why we should hold our government accountable for expanding voter registrations, which is one of the touchstones of civic participation.  With this bill, the city is reaching potential voters where they see them most - our own offices. I commend Council Member Ben Kallos for his leadership on this important civic issue and I look forward to passing this bill."

“New York City experienced a record low turnout for the 2013 local elections, when only 23% of registered voters showed up to the polls,” said Council Member Corey Johnson. “It is imperative that we utilize all available tools to engage as many New Yorkers as possible to become active voters. Empowering additional City agencies to distribute voter registration forms will allow us to reach more people come Election Day.”

“The ability to exercise the right to vote is fundamental part of the democratic process,” said Council Member Donovan Richards. “Intro 493 is forward-thinking legislation that will encourage greater civic participation from those who may have traditionally been left out or chose not to engage in the process. Requiring agencies to comply and expand their voter registration efforts is simply the right thing to do and I commend the leadership of Council Member Kallos for holding government and subsequent agencies responsible for fulfilling their mandate to the people of New York.”

“The City Council’s actions today to strengthen the city’s Pro-Voter Law will ensure that the City of New York follows through to ensure that New Yorkers have more opportunities to register to vote. We applaud the City Council and the Mayor's office for taking these meaningful steps toward strengthening the existing law's requirements that will hopefully result in a higher number of eligible New Yorkers registering to vote or keeping their residence information up-to-date," said Dick Dadey, executive director of Citizens Union of the City of New York.

"Across much of the country, misguided Legislatures have been passing laws to restrict voting," said Neal Rosenstein, NYPIRG's Government Reform Coordinator.  "Here in New York, instead of fearing new voters, the City Council is embracing them and we strongly applaud that effort. This measure will help strengthen our representative democracy and the city's diverse voice," he added.

"Council Member Kallos’s bill is a good first step toward ensuring that New York City's agencies more effectively register New Yorkers to vote when they are doing business with government,” said DeNora Getachew, Campaign Manager and Legislative Counsel at the Brennan Center for Justice.  “We look forward to continuing to work with the City Council to bring our City's agency-based voter registration efforts into the 21st century.  Using modern technology to register voters would be a big leap forward that would benefit voters and agencies."

"New Yorkers are seeing  the impact that progressive political leadership can have on people's lives, " said Steven Carbó, Director of Voting Rights and Democracy Initiatives at the Center for Popular Democracy, which helped to convene the Pro-Voter Coalition. "In expanding access to the vote, Mayor de Blasio. Speaker Mark-Viverito, and Council Members Kallos and Williams are blazing the trail for other cities to follow."

“Common Cause New York is grateful to the City Council for taking up this important issue and working to improve the compliance and utilization of city agency-based voter registration.  We commend the Council for its pro-active approach to strengthening voter registration efforts with these bills,” said Susan Lerner, Executive Director Common Cause NY.