Less than one quarter of registered New York City voters cast ballots in this month’s general election for municipal offices — a new low for voter turnout in the city, which has trended steadily downward in mayoral contests for the last three decades.
Local elected officials hope that legislation passed Nov. 16 by the City Council will widen the pool of voters in future elections by making it easier for residents to register to vote. The bill requires the city’s Campaign Finance Board to implement and maintain a website and mobile application allowing eligible residents to register to vote online.
New York is one of 36 states that permit online voter registration in some form, but the state’s online registration program is currently only open to residents who hold DMV-issued driver licenses, learner permits, or non-driver identification cards. This requirement acted as a barrier to online registration for many residents of New York City, where car ownership rates are lower than in the rest of the state.
Council Member Ben Kallos, the bill’s author, hopes that the legislation will make it easier for the city’s residents to access the ballot. “Only about 25 percent of Manhattan households own cars,” Kallos said, citing the New York City Economic Development Corporation. “Driver licenses and other state identification cards are not as common among people of color or low-income communities, so having an online voter registration system that anyone can use is incredibly important.”
Seth Stein, a spokesman for Mayor Bill de Blasio, said that the mayor’s office is reviewing the final legislation. “The Administration worked closely with the City Council in crafting this legislation,” he said. “We support online registration and making voting more accessible to New Yorkers.”
The legislation that has an 18-month timeline for implementation, but Kallos said he hopes the online registration system will be up and running “in a matter days or weeks rather than months and months,” noting that a working demonstration of the system is available on his website.
The legislation relies on an informal opinion issued by state Attorney General Eric Schneiderman in April 2016 advising that online registration is legal in New York State.