New York City Councilman Ben Kallos plans to introduce legislation today aiming to ensure that city high schools fulfill their legal mandate to distribute voter registration forms to graduating students, in part by instituting a tracking system to be used by the Department of Education.
Kallos, who will be joined by Council Members Linda Rosenthal and Fernando Cabrera, said the Young Adult Voter Registration Act already directs both public and private high schools to have voter registration applications available on campus and to hand them out with diplomas upon graduation, but that it has gone largely unimplemented since its passage in 2004.
Under his legislation, schools would maintain a stash of voter registration forms in several languages and distribute them to students. The Department of Education would then be required to track how many forms make it back to the city's Board of Elections each year, and to submit annual reports to the City Council.
“The current law just requires that they put voter registrations with diplomas and mail it to the kids. One hundred thousand go out a year, and 100,000 kids do not register to vote,” Kallos said, also noting that in the time since he began helping students register to vote in 2012, he has never called a campus that reported having forms on hand. “We’re just trying to improve it and make sure we’re actually following it,” he said.
Dick Dadey, executive director of the good government groups Citizens Union, praised the proposed legislation, which is co-sponsored by Council Members Helen Rosenthal and Fernando Cabrera.
“Voting is as much a right as it is a habit, and it is important that we create good civic habits for our young people,” Dadey said.
Neither the Department of Education nor the Board of Elections immediately responded to a request for comment. But Kallos, chair of the Governmental Operations Committee, said the DOE seems receptive, noting that he already partnered with Council Education Chairman Daniel Dromm and the department on a pilot senior registration day last school year.
Kallos’ push comes on the heels of Mayor Bill de Blasio’s July directive to nearly 20 city agencies requiring that they submit a plan for complying with the Pro-Voter Law of 2000. The executive order requires agencies to distribute voter registration forms while performing routine services, to help citizens fill out paperwork when asked, and to transmit the completed documents to the Board of Elections.
Under a recently passed city law, the mayor's office must also submit biannual reports to the City Council starting this summer, detailing how many applications they've handed out, received back and sent to the Board of Elections. However, none of this applies to the Education Department.
City personnel in these 20 agencies failed to provide voter registration forms during 84 percent of their interactions with clients, according to an October report by a group of voter advocacy and public policy organizations called the Pro-Voter Law Coalition. The compliancy rate dipped to 40 percent when the group examined exchanges with non-native English speakers, according to the report.
City Hall's first reports to the Council this August will likely show an improvement, according to Rachael Fauss, director of public policy at Citizens Union, one of the coalition members.
Fauss said the city Office of Operations has been fielding plans from agencies and coordinating with the Campaign Finance Board on training material for city personnel.
“We’ve had ongoing discussions with the administration on this,” Fauss said. “We’re looking forward to seeing the report this summer.”