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Automatic Voter Registration in New York

Empire State legislators are considering making New York the 16th state to pass AVR.

Published: June 27, 2019

On June 19, 2019, the New York Senate passed S6457, an AVR bill, with bipartisan support. Due to a last minute drafting error, however, AVR stalled in the Assembly. Legislators announced that passing AVR is a top priority for the 2020 legislative session.

New York Voting Laws Prior to 2019

For many decades, New York lagged behind much of the country in the area of voting rights. The state consistently experienced long-lines and voting machine problems on election days. Turnout in the Empire State consistently ranked among the lowest in the nation. In the 2018 midterms, a year that saw record turnout across the country, New York ranked 42nd.

Legislative fixes were met with inaction in Albany. In 2012, Senator Gianaris and Assemblyman Brian Kavanagh, with support of the Brennan Center and other good government groups, introduced the Voter Empowerment Act of New York, a precursor to AVR. The bill would have digitized the voter registration process, allowed for pre-registration of 16- and 17-year-olds, and changed voter registration and party enrollment deadlines. The proposal stonewalled in legislative session after legislative session. AVR bills have been introduced in every legislative session since 2015.

However, there were some victories in modernizing New York’s elections infrastructure. In 2012, New York launched electronic voter registration at DMV offices and fully eliminated the use of paper for DMV-based registration in 2015. Online voter registration through the DMV began in 2012 as well, allowing eligible citizens with a DMV-issued ID to register to vote or update voter information.

Developments this Legislative Session

Overhauling New York’s voting laws has been among the top priorities – and successes – of the 2019-2020 legislative session in Albany.

  • On December 17, 2018, Governor Cuomo announced his 2019 legislative agenda, which included comprehensive voting reform. Policies included early voting, same-day voter registration, and automatic voter registration (AVR).
  • On January 11, 2019, Senator Michael Gianaris introduced an initial automatic voter registration bill in the New York Senate, S1278.
  • On January 14, 2019, the second day of New York’s legislative session, the Legislature passed a suite of voting law reforms. These included early voting (S1102), pre-registration for 16- and 17-year-olds (A774), and portability of registration records (A775). On top of that, legislators passed constitutional amendments to permit same-day registration and no-excuse absentee voting, which will need to be passed again and then ratified by the voters.
  • The following day, January 15, 2019, Governor Cuomo released his proposed budget, which included automatic voter registration.
  • On January 18, 2019, Governor Cuomo introduced his “good government and ethics reform budget” into the Senate as S1510. Subsections (g) and (x) contain provisions to establish an AVR system.
  • On January 24, 2019, Governor Cuomo signed S1102 (early voting), A774 (pre-registration), and A775 (portability) into law.
  • On April 1, 2019, Governor Cuomo announced his full budget, which included many needed additions to the democracy reforms passed earlier by the legislature. These included paid time off for Election Day voting, enacting online voter registration, funding e-poll books, and expanding voting hours for locations update.
  • On May 30, 2019, the New York Senate Standing Committee on Elections, chaired by Senator Zellnor Myrie, held a hearing on AVR. The Brennan Center for Justice both submitted written testimony and provided oral testimony.
  • On June 11, 2019, lawmakers in both chambers introduced identical AVR bills, A8280/S6457. Assemblywoman Walker introduced the Assembly bill and Senator Gianaris submitted the Senate version.
  • On June 19, 2019, the New York Senate passed S6457, with the vote breaking down 42-20. 
  • On June 20, 2019, Senate Majority Leader Andrea Stewart-Cousins and Assembly Speaker Carl Heastie released a joint statement announcing that because of a drafting error in A8280/S6457, the leaders will recall the bill, ending the prospects of AVR passing in the 2019 legislative session. The leaders announced their intention to pass an AVR "bill at the next available opportunity when we are in legislative session."

Brennan Center Materials

Op-eds in Favor of AVR in New York

Brennan Center Publications