Tuesday, November 25, 2008

Brennan Center to City Council:
Universal Registration Is the Answer

The New York City Council Committee on Governmental Operations held a hearing this morning about three resolutions: early voting, same-day voter registration and electronic voter registration. Chaired by Councilman Simcha Felder, the hearing also served as oversight of the general election (something that’s missing in, say, other areas of the state).

My testimony (pdf here) focused on a solution to several key election administration issues: universal voter registration. As I wrote: “Automatic voter registration is the most comprehensive means available to ensure all who are eligible may vote and to increase participation in the electoral system. In addition, it shifts the burden of registration from citizens and third-party organizations to the government, removes several barriers and smooths election administration.”

In his testimony, state Board of Elections Co-Chair Douglas A. Kellner echoed my sentiment that universal registration is an ideal solution.

For more information, see the Brennan Center’s Universal Registration Policy Summary.

Friday, November 14, 2008

Legislature to Jumps on Election Bandwagon

Following a nap worthy of Rip Van Winkle (apologies to past State of the State messages), the state Legislature may be stirring on voting issues in New York. The reason: the reports of the success of early voting around the country, which isn't allowed in New York.

For the sake of this post, set aside that New York still isn't complaint with major parts of the Help America Vote Act (2002!), and that the Board of Elections may miss the court-ordered September 2009 deadline to replace the lever machines.

Word from Albany is that several members of the Legislature will introduce bills for early voting and no-excuse absentee balloting (by constitutional amendment). The first batch are from Assemblymen Jim Brennan and Rory Lancman on those two issues. The rush will start on this Monday, when members of the Assembly can submit bills to be introduced the next legislative session. (The actual date under Assembly rules in November 15, which falls on a Saturday.)

This comes after a much-needed directive by Governor Paterson last week. Secretary of State Lorraine A. Cortés-Vázquezto is conducting "a thorough assessment of the November 4 election..." and will submit a report within 60 days.

Apart from HAVA , new voting technology and making voting easier there are a litany of other election issues in the state that run afoul of democracy and common sense. For one, more than 1.6 million voters--14% of the rolls--were purged before the election. Since the process is opaque, the timing unknown and without oversight it's impossible if people who were eligible to vote on Election Day had their names removed in error. (We do know about the now-famous case of actor Tim Robbins, which may or may not have been a result of a purge.)

According to the Brennan Center report on Voter Purges, procedures to remove names from the rolls are riddled with errors. Plus, the National Voter Registration Act says that systematic purges cannot occur within 90 days of election and that names moved to the inactive list cannot be removed from the rolls before two federal elections .

The delay in party affliction switches, which can be longer than a year, is another area of improvement. In order to vote in our closed primaries, unaffiliated registrants must do so before the general election before the primary they want to vote in. So, unaffiliated voters who wished to vote in the presidential primary in February or state primary in September had to do so by October 12, 2007. Party switches after didn't take effect until the day after the election, November 5.

I've written it before and I'll do so again: Why is a state whose Latin motto is "Excelsior" (or ever upward) seem to be pointed in the opposite direction where elections and democracy is concerned?