My testimony in front of the New York State Senate Standing Committee on Elections in favor of Automatic Voter Registration.
You can see the entire hearing here:
Testimony before The New York State Senate
Standing Committee on Elections
Thursday May 30, 2019 1pm
Dustin M. Czarny, NYSECA Democratic Caucus Chair
Thank you for letting me testify today. My name is Dustin Czarny and I am an Elections Commissioner in Onondaga County and the Democratic Caucus Chair of the New York State Elections Commissioner Association. NYSECA represents the diverse 62 counties throughout New York State. I have been an advocate for election reforms for the better part of the last decade. To say that electoral reform has been slow in New York would be a massive understatement. New York fell behind other states both in voter convenience and voter turnout. I believe there is a strong correlation between access and participation. However as other states enacted voting reforms over the last decade, New York has moved forward at a glacial pace.
This year has seen a virtual flood of legislation aimed at modernizing our electoral system. Early Voting, consolidating our Local & Federal Primaries and moving it to June, Electronic Poll books, On Demand Ballot printing, expanded paid time off for voting, and Universal Transfers of Registrations were all passed effective this year. In 2020 we will add Pre-registration of 16 & 17 year olds as well as uniform primary hours. In 2021 we look to finish the constitutional process for Same Day registration, No Excuse Absentees, and institute an expanded online voter registration system.
With all these changes being enacted it would be tempting to rest on our laurels however there is one reform that can super charge all the other reforms and truly put New York on a path to leading the nation, rather than just catching up. That reform is Automatic Voter Registration. Fifteen states and the District of Columbia have enacted an “opt-out” rather than “opt-in” registration. Enacting AVR in New York will place us on the vanguard of voter access and show us to be a leader on electoral reform.
AVR will address the biggest barrier to voter participation: accurate and proper voter registration. This initial barrier is one of the reasons New York has consistently ranked at or near the bottom of eligible citizens registered to vote. In New York over one third of eligible citizens who could register are not. Many of them who would like to participate choose to do so after the voter registration deadline and face long lines for court orders that are not guaranteed or risk having their vote not counted in the affidavit process. Further complicating voting is our registration system remains out of date and may not be accurate in terms of a voter’s residence. We live in a mobile society and voters may not notify the Boards of Elections upon moving. This could cause their registration to go in active making it more difficult to vote on Election Day.
Switching to an opt-in system will rectify many of these problems without adding significant costs. If a voter is automatically registered when interacting with a New York State agency then the initial barrier of registration is eliminated. Furthermore changes in addresses will be automatically sent Boards of Elections making our voter rolls more accurate for the convenience of voters and campaigns. Pairing this reform with the pre-registration of 16 & 17 year olds will address younger voters and their lagging participation in the electoral process. Many 16 & 17 year olds will interact with the DMV as they obtain driver’s licenses and permits. Automatically registering them and updating their registration as they move will specially benefit these voters as they transition from living at home, to college, to independence.
Lastly this will also assist the Board of Elections in how we handle elections. Accurate voter rolls will keep voters from falling into inactive status and possibly being purged. Keeping voters active will eliminate extra mailings, affidavit ballots, and court orders. This will ultimately save Boards of Elections money, it will minimize voters who want to participate in our Democracy. We expect an initial surge of registrations as we transition to AVR, ongoing costs should be minimal as we are already processing registrations on a daily basis. In fact we are often sending out registration forms to those who interact with the DMV but choose not to register. AVR will all but eliminate that costly process.
The time is now to pass AVR and have it effective in 2020. The presidential election of 2020 is expected to be the highest turnout election in our lifetimes. Making sure all voters have as much access as possible in this pivotal election should drive all of our electoral decisions. Having AVR in place for 2020 will also assist Boards of Elections in redrawing of Election District lines after the Census and redistricting in 2021 and beyond. Having accurate voter rolls will allow us to craft election district lines and place Early Voting and Election Day polling places in areas that benefit the true population of voters.
Our caucus took no position on “Front End” versus “Back End” processing of AVR. It does seem a hybrid approach for New York State is warranted. Party registration is an important part in a closed primary state like we have in New York. Given the increasing emphasis on enrollment deadlines and party primaries we should allow agencies that have the ability to ask for voter enrollment to keep voters from being barred from primaries accidentally.
Thank you very much for your time and I hope the NYS Senate and Assembly will pass a form of AVR this year.