Assemblyman Votes Against Voter Register Reform Bill

Legislation that was approved on the final day of the state legislative session is aimed at helping college students register to vote.

S.1128A was approved by both the state Senate and Assembly as the legislative session ended. Assemblyman Jeff Dinowitz, D-Bronx, sponsored the legislation.

Assemblyman Andrew Goodell, R-Jamestown, questioned Dinowicz on the floor of the Assembly. Goodell wondered if the legislation makes State University of New York and City University of New York campuses voter registration centers and if Dinowitz had heard anything regarding the results of an investigation requested in 2017 by Gov. Andrew Cuomo on the university systems’ voting registration rates. According to the legislative justification for the bill, the results of that investigation and plans that resulted are not available for each university system or campus. The legislation Dinowitz proposed would also require each campus to submit annual reports.

“I don’t know if I can answer that because I don’t know if I have that information,” Dinowitz said. “What I will tell you is that this legislation will help us ensure that the work is done because, after all, what we want to do, and I’m sure you would agree because you represent a lot of people including young people, we want to make sure as many people as possible are registered to vote. If there is one group where people are less likely to be registered it’s people who just became eligible to vote. That’s what this bill is all about.”

Dinowitz wrote in the legislative justification for the bill that the legislation changes Chapter 659 of the state’s Motor Voter law enacted in 1994. The State University of New York and the City University of New York are not one of the 16 agencies included in the legislation, and Dinowitz wrote that none of the 16 participating agencies specifically served or targeted young voters.

The legislation would require SUNY and CUNY campuses to provide all students with voter registration forms at the beginning of each school year, as well as in January of each presidential election year. Federal law also mandates that the institutions provide students an opportunity to register to vote, as well as assistance and filing of registration forms. Data from the last few years has shown that voter registration rates at many of New York’s public colleges are lagging behind other higher education institutions nationally.

“One of the aspects that makes college campus registration a little different than most of our other registration drives is that by their very nature, the students they cater to, they are not full-time residents in the community,” Goodell said. “They certainly are while they’re going to college, they may or may not be there during the summer, they may or may not consider that address as their permanent address. Even if they list it as their permanent address it may not be the same address the next year because they may have moved to a different dorm or a different adress. So there’s unique challenges and issues involving on campus registration. Does this bill address any of those?”

Dinowitz said the challenges aren’t unique at all, particularly with students in the CUNY because they typically are already New York City residents who live close to the CUNY campus where they will attend college.

“The state university students, I would guess, but I can’t give you any data to back it up, that the vast majority of the students actually register where their families live,” Dinowitz said. “I know it strikes fear into the hearts of some people, the idea that young people would register in some of the communities where the state university schools are, but they have the right to do that if they choose.”

Expanding Motor Voter laws to college campuses in the state university system has been kicking around the state Legislature since the 1999-2000 session. It had advanced to advanced readings several times but was never approved by the Assembly.

Goodell voted against the legislation in the Assembly, with Assemblyman Joe Giglio, R-Gowanda, voting in favor. It was approved by both houses of the legislature and was sent for review and signature by Cuomo.