New York CIty Council Member Ben Kallos

WNYC: New York Public Radio City Election Officials Consider Online Voter Registration by Brigid Bergin

City Election Officials Consider Online Voter Registration




New York City is pushing to expand voter registration through a new lawthat would make it the first municipality in the state to offer voter registration online.

Currently, the only way to register to vote online in New York is through the Department of Motor Vehicles. The catch is you need to have a driver's license or a non-driver id card to use that system — a system that has experienced some hiccups.

City Councilman Ben Kallos said voter registration should be as easy as calling for an Uber. He sponsored a bill to create an online portal through the website of the city's Campaign Finance Board.

"New York City residents would be able to go online, put in all of their information and they could sign on a piece of paper and take a picture, or just sign with their finger or with a stylus," said Kallos.

The key here: the voter registration forms would rely on digital signatures. State Attorney General Eric Schneiderman issued an opinion last year saying they're legal, paving the way for online voter registration.

"The bill sponsored by Councilman Kallos marks a key step forward in the fight for more accessible elections, allowing New York City to begin to bring our electoral process into the 21st century," Schneiderman said in a statement.

Alex Camarda with the good government group Reinvent Albany said this would make it easier for young people who already conduct so much of their lives online. But the Board of Elections would have to accept these online forms.

If the city Board decides not to accept them Camarda said, "we've been working on shopping around a lawsuit in the event the Board of Elections would reject digitally signed forms that are submitted by the city or by any third party."

The city Board of Elections director Mike Ryan saID he's seeking more guidance on the proposal. He emailed a letter to the State Board of Elections directors on Monday asking for guidance and instruction.

"While we play a critical role in the voter registration process, we are not the keeper of the gate...the New York State Board of Elections is," Ryan told WNYC. He also noted that the State Board of Elections has statutory authority when it comes to ensuring compliance with the federal Voting Rights Act and he cited a recent consent decree signed by the city Board of Elections that oversees all its procedures related to voter roll maintenance. 

A spokesman for the mayor's office said City Hall supports online voter registration and will review the final legislation when it passes the Council. That vote is expected on Thursday.


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