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Politicians Push to Make Voting Easier in New York

By Gwynne Hogan | February 8, 2017 4:40pm
 Voters fill in their ballots inside these privacy booths before feeding them into electronic readers.
Voters fill in their ballots inside these privacy booths before feeding them into electronic readers.
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DNAinfo/Jill Colvin

NEW YORK — A slew of new bills aimed at making voting easier are being considered by New York's politicians.

On the federal level, U.S. Congresswoman Grace Meng, who represents parts of Elmhurst, Rego Park, Middle Village and Glendale in Queens, introduced a bill that would make election day a national holiday — with the hope that a day off would encourage people to vote.

And on Tuesday, state Senate Democrats announced a package of bills aimed at reforming the state's election system which they called a "relic of the last century."

The proposed reforms come after growing criticism of the way the state runs elections and lackluster voter turnout. They would change rules governing how and when people can be registered to vote.

New York state had the third worst turnout in the country, with only Texas and Indiana having a worse record, according to a 2015 report from NonprofitVOTE, a nonpartisan organization that advocates and studies voting trends in the U.S.

Just 29 percent of those registered to vote did so during the 2014 midterm elections, the report found.

The lawmakers hope to hack through some of the red tape and streamline voting by automatically registering people when they get drivers' licenses or other government-issued identification and by allowing people to register at polling stations on election day.

None of the proposals appears to directly address the purging of 120,000 voters in Brooklyn during last year's presidential primary.

Democrats are currently the minority party in the state's senate and have unsuccessfully tried pushing some of the bills in the package before.

This time, some of the proposals have support from the breakaway Independent Democratic Conference, which often collaborate with Republicans. 

Barbara Bartoletti, the legislative director at the New York State League of Women Voters, said the latest package of voter reforms have been a long time coming.

“We’ve been trying to pass similar bills for over a decade now,” Bartoletti said.

"We just really repress the vote by setting up barriers."

In the state Assembly, Attorney General Eric Schneiderman announced the New York Votes Act on Wednesday.

Sponsored by Assemblyman Michael Cusick, it also aims to let people register on the same day as an election, as well as consolidate federal and local elections onto one day and shorten the length of time needed to register.

“New York has long been a bastion of democracy, but our state’s current system of registration and voting is an affront to that legacy," Schneiderman said.