City agencies are not doing enough to help New Yorkers register to vote found a new report released today by the Pro-Voter Law Coalition. The coalition of groups is led by the Brennan Center for Justice at NYU School of Law, Center for Popular Democracy, Asian American Legal Defense and Education Fund (AALDEF), Citizens Union of the City of New York, and the New York Public Interest Research Group/NYPIRG.
Last summer, Mayor de Blasio issued his first Mayoral Directive aimed to improve city agency voter registration efforts. The City passed local Law 29, also known as the Pro-Voter Law, in 2000 to expand voter registration opportunities at municipal agencies. Information for the report, A Broken Promise: Agency-Based Voter Registration in New York City, was obtained through Freedom of Information Law (FOIL) requests and field investigations, and revealed a lack of compliance across city agencies with the Pro-Voter Law. Key findings included:
- Widespread failure to comply with the Pro-Voter Law’s requirement to provide voter registration application forms. Specifically, city agencies failed to do so in 84 percent of client interactions;
- Efforts ranged from the inconsistent administration of the Pro-Voter Law, to an almost complete lack of apparent attempts to fully administer the law at the city agencies that responded to FOIL requests;
- Increased noncompliance for limited English proficient New Yorkers. Only 40 percent, or 2 out of 5, of agency clients whose primary language was not English were given translated voter registration applications as mandated by the law; and
- Agency staff received no regular training on voter registration procedures mandated by the law.
“Long lines and Election Day chaos are potent symbols of our nation’s broken voter registration system, and our research show that the same is true here in New York City,” said DeNora Getachew, Campaign Manager and Legislative Counsel at the Brennan Center for Justice at NYU School of Law. “Our city needs to join the growing national movement to modernize elections by requiring agencies to electronically transmit voter registration information directly to the board of elections, instead of continuing to use outdated paper forms. This digital-age solution is win-win for voters and election officials. It will increase voter registration rates, save the city money, and make voter rolls more accurate.”
“Under previous Mayoral administrations, New York City has broken its promise to city voters by failing to comply with the Pro-Voter Law, and failing to create an electorate that is truly representative of our city,” said Steven Carbó, Director of Voting Rights and Democracy Initiatives at the Center for Popular Democracy. “We are heartened by Mayor de Blasio’s recent Mayoral Directive and his strong commitment to voter registration—and we look forward to working closely with his administration to realize our shared objectives.”
“Fourteen years ago, the threat of a veto by Mayor Giuliani weakened key provisions of the Pro-Voter Law, and then Mayor Bloomberg failed to properly implement it for 12 long years,” said Neal Rosenstein, Government Reform Coordinator of NYPIRG. “It’s time for today’s Council to strengthen the law and for Mayor de Blasio to clearly break with his predecessors and make sure it’s effectively implemented. Potential city voters deserve to be able to register as easily as New Yorkers can at DMV offices across the state under the federal Motor Voter Law.”
“Voting is the cornerstone of our democracy and increasing civic engagement is essential in making sure all New Yorkers are fully represented in government,” said New York City Council Speaker Melissa Mark-Viverito. “That’s why it’s essential that the Pro-Voter Law is fully enforced and I thank the Center for Popular Democracy, Citizens Union, NYPIRG, The Brennan Center for Justice, and the Asian American Legal Defense and Education Fund for their recommendations to strengthen compliance and engage more citizens in elections.”
“Voter participation is essential to our democracy, and with plummeting voter turnout, we must ensure that New Yorkers have more convenient opportunities to register to vote,” said Dick Dadey, Executive Director of Citizens Union. “This report outlines a needed framework for a model agency voter registration program that will result in robust efforts to encourage more New Yorkers to register.”
“Nothing is more important to democracy than voter participation. These are smart strategies to break down barriers to registering to vote for those who may be least likely to do so,” said Council Member Brad Lander. “Our city is strongest when everyone’s voices are heard.”
“We face a crisis of non-participation in New York City: Of the 8.5 million residents of New York City, only 4.3 million are registered to vote,” said Council Member Ben Kallos. “City law dictates that our government help register voters—but this report shows that, in the vast majority of cases, it simply isn’t happening. City agencies must comply with the law to offer voter registration forms to New Yorkers. To paraphrase Ben Franklin, it is our democracy, if we can keep it. And the task of keeping it must involve immediate action to remedy the failures of implementation of our city’s Pro-Voter laws.”
“Asian Americans and Pacific Islanders are the nation’s fastest growing racial group and comprise almost 14 percent of New York City’s population. Along with other communities of color and immigrant communities, these are important members of our city’s electorate who deserve to participate fully in the political process,” said Margaret Fung, Executive Director of the Asian American Legal Defense and Education Fund. “Compliance with the law’s language access mandates, including translated voter registration forms and bilingual staff at city agencies, is a critical first step to ensure meaningful civic engagement from all of New York’s communities.”
“Voter registration is essential to ensuring a broad and inclusive electorate,” said Javier Valdes, Co-Executive Director of Make the Road New York. “The City should do absolutely everything it can to ensure that all eligible New Yorkers have the opportunity to participate in our democracy.”
The Pro-Voter Law requires 18 city agencies and, under certain circumstances, their associated subcontractors, to provide voter registration forms to all persons submitting applications, renewals, or recertification for agency services, or notifying the agency of a change of address. The law included each of the City’s 59 community boards as well.
In its report, the Pro-Voter Law Coalition made 12 recommendations including the following:
- Establish comprehensive protocols by December 31, 2014 to ensure that all agencies provide voter registration applications to clients when they apply for services, renewal or recertification for services and change of address relating to such services and promptly transmit all completed voter registration applications to the NYC Board of Elections;
- Require agencies to use coded voter registration forms specific to each agency. Solicit quarterly reports by the Board of Elections on the numbers of forms submitted by city agencies (a model protocol is proposed in City Council Intro 356 of 2014); and
- Mandate that agency staff provide the same level of assistance in completing voter registration forms as is given to other agency transactions. This should include verbal assistance.
Members of the Pro-Voter Coalition are available for interviews with the media.
The Brennan Center for Justice at NYU School of Law is a nonpartisan law and policy institute that seeks to improve our systems of democracy and justice. The Center’s work ranges from voting rights to campaign finance reform, from racial justice in criminal law to Constitutional protection in the fight against terrorism.
The Center for Popular Democracy promotes equity, opportunity, and a dynamic democracy in partnership with base-building organizations, organizing networks and alliances, and progressive unions across the country. CPD builds the strength and capacity of democratic organizations to envision and advance a pro-worker, pro-immigrant, racial and economic justice agenda. Visit www.populardemocracy.org and www.twitter.com/popdemoc.
Citizens Union is a nonpartisan good government group dedicated to making democracy work for all New Yorkers. Citizens Union serves as a civic watchdog, combating corruption and fighting for political reform. We work to ensure fair and open elections, honest and efficient government, and a civically‐engaged public. Principled and pragmatic, Citizens Union is an independent force for constructive reform, driving policy and educating the public to achieve accountable government in the City and State of New York.
The New York Public Interest Research Group (NYPIRG) is New York State’s largest student-directed research and advocacy organization. NYPIRG is a nonpartisan, not-for-profit whose principal areas of concern are environmental protection, consumer rights, higher education, government reform, voter registration, mass transit and public health.
The Asian American Legal Defense and Education Fund (AALDEF), founded in 1974, is a national organization that protects and promotes the civil rights of Asian Americans. By combining litigation, advocacy, education, and organizing, AALDEF works with Asian American communities across the country to secure human rights for all.