State Legal Group Pushes For Increased Access To Voting

In testimony submitted today to the state Assembly, Michael Miller, New York State Bar Association president, presented the state bar’s views on access to the electoral system for New York’s voters. Modernizing voting in order to increase voter participation is a legislative priority of the association.

“Voting in the United States is one of our most fundamental rights, ensuring our ability to participate in the electoral process,” wrote Miller in the submitted testimony. “However, the rate of voter participation in New York State is frequently ranked among the lowest in the nation. Measures to remove barriers to registration and voting and to encourage participation, while maintaining the integrity of the process, could go a long way to improve civic engagement and enhance our democracy.”

Based on the 2013 report from NYSBA’s bipartisan Special Committee on Voter Participation, association members believe New York state needs to modernize its system for registering voters, a process that will have a very significant impact on voter participation by bringing New York’s rates of registration and voter participation up to levels above 80 percent within a few years.

To modernize the voter registration system, the bar association recommends voter registration opportunities be offered to New Yorkers online, in the mail and whenever they engage in a transaction with a state agency. Association members also recommend the development of a program for the voluntary pre-registration of 16- and 17-year olds and calls for the state to take the steps necessary to permit Election Day or same day registration.

To enhance the voting process, the association also recommends that a form of in-person early voting be adopted, making it easier for many voters to get to the polls, preferably one that extends the time for voting through the weekend before Election Day.

Additional changes that should be implemented to make the voting process more accommodating for voters include: improving ballot design to minimize voter confusion; providing ballots in multiple languages; expanding recruitment and training of polling place workers; and stiffening penalties to reflect existing penalties for voter registration fraud.

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