New York Legislature

Senator Deputy Majority Leader, Michael Gianaris, D-Astoria, left, and Senate Deputy Minority Leader Joseph Griffo, R-Utica, speak before a legislative session the Senate Chamber at the state Capitol Thursday, June 20, 2019, in Albany, N.Y. (AP Photo/Hans Pennink)

A typo will delay passage of automatic voter registration legislation in New York until 2020. 

After the state Senate approved the bill Wednesday, election reform advocates were active during the final days of session urging the state Assembly to pass the bill. But Assembly Speaker Carl Heastie and Senate Majority Leader Andrea Stewart-Cousins issued a joint statement explaining why the bill wouldn't advance this year. 

Heastie and Stewart-Cousins said a "significant technical issue" would have "impacted the intent of the legislation." The error involved a provision in the bill requiring a box to appear on agency applications that an applicant could check if they declined to register to vote. 

A subsequent provision mandates that forms include a warning statement to non-citizens alerting them to "not check the voter registration box below." The language would have the opposite effect of its intent. If non-citizens didn't check the box, they would be registered to vote. 

The Senate recalled the bill Thursday and plans to introduced a corrected measure, according to the legislative leaders. 

At a briefing Friday in Albany, Gov. Andrew Cuomo — a proponent of automatic voter registration — said he would've been forced to veto the bill because of the error. 

"The way it was written, it would have allowed undocumented people who got a driver's license the right to vote," he explained. 

Election reform advocates are hopeful that the state Legislature will act soon to pass the amended automatic voter registration bill. 

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Under an automatic voter registration system, New Yorkers would be added to the voter rolls when they turn 18 after interacting with a state government agency, such as the Department of Motor Vehicles. Instead of an opt-in system, which is New York's existing method of registering voters, citizens could opt out of registering to vote. 

Supporters of automatic voter registration say it could boost turnout, reduce costs and make the process more efficient. 

"After a historic session passing crucial reforms such as early voting and pre-registration of 16- and 17-year-olds, we are so thankful to our partners in the Senate and the Assembly for their unwavering support," the Let NY Vote coalition said in a statement. "Now, the New York Legislature must prioritize automatic voter registration at the earliest possible opportunity — we know the legislature will not let a typo prevent 1 million eligible New Yorkers from voting." 

The coalition said there are approximately 1.1 million New Yorkers who are old enough to vote, but aren't registered. 

Sixteen states and the District of Columbia have some form of automatic voter registration, according to the National Conference of State Legislatures. In nearly every state, the Department of Motor Vehicles is the main agency participating in automatic voter registration. In some states, other agencies are designated to automatically register voters. 

While advocates want quick action on the bill, any votes on the corrected measure likely won't happen until 2020. Legislative leaders noted that waiting to pass the corrected bill won't affect its implementation because it's not scheduled to take effect until 2021. 

"We will pass this updated bill at the next available opportunity when we are in legislative session," Heastie and Stewart-Cousins said. 

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Online producer Robert Harding can be reached at (315) 282-2220 or robert.harding@lee.net. Follow him on Twitter @robertharding.


Online producer and politics reporter

I have been The Citizen's online producer and politics reporter since December 2009. I'm the author of the Eye on NY blog and write the weekly Eye on NY column that appears every Sunday in the print edition of The Citizen and online at auburnpub.com.