New York Voter Registration Moves into the 21st Century

February 4, 2013

On the eve of the November election, the Brennan Center learned that Long Island voters who had registered online via an initiative by Gov. Andrew Cuomo and the DMV were rejected because the Suffolk County Board of Elections had unilaterally refused to accept electronically-submitted registrations. We wrote to Suffolk County, urging them to comply with the new policy, and explaining that secure electronic transmission of records, including digitized copies of electronic signatures, posed no threat to election integrity. To the contrary: The greatest threat to New York’s election integrity has been embarrassing incidents caused by the state’s ramshackle, paper-based process.

After the New York Civil Liberties Union added its voice to the call to accept online registrations, Suffolk County recently confirmed that it is now accepting all registrations filed through the DMV’s secure online portal, MyDMV, and that it will retroactively process the applications of previously-rejected voters.

We applaud Suffolk County’s decision, which eliminated an unnecessary obstacle to online registration for New York voters, who now have greater access to — and control over — their registration records.

Under the new initiative, voters who have a signature on file with the DMV can use MyDMV to register to vote or to update their address or party enrollment. Within the first month and a half of its launch, its popularity was evident statewide: More than 16,000 New Yorkers took advantage of the new online process.

An easy and accessible online registration system offers more flexibility and choice for voters, and encourages real-time address updates whenever New York voters move. This in turn provides election officials with a more accurate record of registered voters. Online registration is a critical step forward in our quest for free, fair, and accessible elections.

Unsurprisingly, this combination of convenience and election integrity is gaining popularity in a variety of states, among politicians of all stripes. But far too many states continue to resist using modern technology to implement needed election reforms. When voters take responsibility to register and vote, election officials should strive to make it as easy as possible for them to get, and stay, on the rolls. Modern technology can and inevitably will play an important role in this process, and those states and localities that resist modernizing are fighting a losing battle. Fortunately, Suffolk County has joined ranks with those who are moving New York forward — to the benefit of all voters.