Election Day Registration would boost young voter turnout in New York more than nearly any other measure, according to a new analysis by the NYCLU. This new data adds urgency to the campaign to make same-day voter registration a reality in the Empire State.
New Yorkers long anticipated that 2022 would be the first year in which voters could register and cast a ballot at the same time all the way up to Election Day. But in November 2021, a disproportionately older electorate delayed that critical reform for at least three years by voting down Ballot Proposition 3, which would have permitted same-day registration.
Right now, New York requires eligible voters to register at least 25 days before Election Day – one of the earliest registration cutoffs in the country. This disenfranchises tens of thousands of eligible voters each year. Our analysis of voter registration and turnout data shows that ratifying Prop 3 and adopting Election Day Registration would have allowed many more young voters to cast a ballot, and middle-aged and older voters were overwhelmingly responsible for killing Prop 3.
Our analysis found:
- 93,649 New Yorkers were unable to vote in the 2016 general election because they registered after the 25-day deadline but before the 10-day constitutional deadline.
- If Election Day Registration had been in place during the 2016 presidential primary, more than 70,000 more New Yorkers would have been eligible to vote, 65 percent of whom were 18 to 34-year-olds.
- 42,628 people–about 30,000 of whom are under the age of 35–were not eligible to vote in the 2016 primary election because they registered after the 25-day deadline.
- From 10 to 24 days before the 2016 primary election day – after the registration deadline passed – 40 percent of people registering to vote were 18 to 24-year-olds.
- In the three months preceding the 2016 primary election’s 25-day cutoff, 43 percent of people registering to vote were between 18 and 24-years-old despite only representing about 10 percent of the state’s 11.5 million enrolled voters.
- Only three percent of New Yorkers who cast a vote in the 2021 general election were between the ages of 18 and 24 and only eight percent were between the ages of 25 and 34.
New York’s Unique Predicament
A clause of Article II, Section 5 of the New York State Constitution requires all voters to register at least 10 days before an election in order to vote in that election. That provision means that the state legislature can’t set a later deadline for voter registration — but it can set an earlier one and it has. The current 25-day deadline was set way back in May 1991.
While New York’s voter registration deadline has stood still as the world went digital and online, same-day registration has become a widely adopted, democracy-enhancing practice. Currently, 21 other states and the District of Columbia allow voters to engage in same-day registration within 10 days of an election and 19 of those states and D.C. allow voters to do so all the way through Election Day. Studies have consistently shown Election Day registration increases voter turnout significantly, particularly among young voters.
In November 2018, the NYCLU filed a lawsuit challenging the 25-day cutoff for arbitrarily disenfranchising tens of thousands of voters. That lawsuit continues today alongside efforts to advocate for legislative change.
In the coming months, the state legislature may lower the barrier to youth participation by moving New York’s voter registration cutoff from 25 days before the election to the current constitutionally-required minimum of 10 days. Our new analysis shows that the interim step of moving to a 10-day cutoff would have a significant positive impact on youth voter turnout. Election Day Registration would have an even greater effect.
The Registration Deadline Suppresses Young Voters
In the period leading up to an election, young people register to vote at much higher rates than other age groups since many young registrants are just turning 18, newly entering the state, or otherwise registering for the first time.
Our analysis shows that in the three months preceding the 2016 primary election’s 25-day cutoff, 43 percent of people registering to vote were between 18 and 24-years-old despite only representing about 10 percent of the state’s 11.5 million enrolled voters. During the same period, 26 percent of registrants were 25 to 34-year-olds, and people 35 or older comprised only 30 percent of new voter registrations.
Young people continue to register at high rates after the 25-day cutoff, chiefly for two reasons. First, the voter registration deadline is not common knowledge, especially for people who may be registering to vote for the first time and are new to electoral bureaucracy.
Second, New York’s 25-day voter cutoff ends registration before the period in which elections get the most publicity. A recent analysis found that during the 2018 and 2020 elections, the number of news articles mentioning New York candidates more than tripled during the 24 days preceding the election as compared to the 50 days before the 2018 general election and 2020 primary election.
In other words, when the public is turning its interest to the upcoming election, it may be too late for would-be-voters in New York to register. This is especially true for lower turnout and off-cycle election years when the election news cycle is even shorter.
The number of young people who register to vote after the 25-day cutoff–and are ineligible to vote on Election Day because of it is huge. From 10 to 24 days before the 2016 primary election day – after the registration deadline passed – 40 percent of people registering to vote were 18 to 24-year-olds.
In the 2016 primary election, 42,628 people – about 30,000 of whom are under the age of 35 – were not eligible to vote because they registered after the 25-day deadline. If the state legislature reduces the deadline from 25 days before the election to 10 days, it will enfranchise tens of thousands of voters each election.
A later voter registration deadline will have an even bigger impact during general elections when voter participation is larger. An analysis of the 2016 presidential election estimates that 93,649 New Yorkers were unable to vote because they registered after the 25-day deadline but before the 10-day constitutional deadline.
Election Day Registration Would be a Game-changer
While moving the registration deadline to 10 days before the election would help, Election Day registration will enable far more eligible voters to cast ballots in every election.
If Election Day registration had been in place during the 2016 presidential primary, more than 70,000 more New Yorkers would have been eligible to vote, 65 percent of whom were 18 to 34-year-olds.
Voters 35 and Older Killed Prop 3
Prop 3 was defeated by an electorate that was overwhelmingly middle-aged and older.
In most elections, voters tend to be older than the populous at large. However, the 2021 general election was an extreme case. Only three percent of New Yorkers who cast a vote in the 2021 general election were between the ages of 18 and 24 and only eight percent were between the ages of 25 and 34. In other words, 89 percent of the electorate were 35 or older. Sixty-two percent of the electorate were 55 or older.
The Path Forward
After the defeat of Prop 3, the next chance New Yorkers will have to vote on the constitutional amendment – which is the first step in implementing Election Day registration – is November 2024.
Until then, the NYCLU and other voting rights groups are putting pressure on lawmakers to reduce the registration deadline from 25 to 10 days.
Young voters should be a critical part of this fight. We will need to organize, advocate together, and vote to make those reforms happen.
A note about methodology:
Findings about voter registration by age group and registration period is based on an analysis of 2017 registration records from the New York State Board of Elections dataset. All ages are calculated as of the 2016 presidential primary election day (April 19, 2016). In addition, only people 18 years or older as of Election Day are included in the analysis. Voter enrollments that were purged from state election records or rendered “inactive” before January 2, 2017, are not included in the findings. Note that “registration” refers to people who are registering in New York State for the first time or people who are re-registering because they moved to a different county.
Findings about voter turnout by age group are from an analysis of election records in 2019, 2021, and 2022. The number of votes present in the election materials do not perfectly match the number of votes tabulated by the New York State Board of Election. For instance, 3,281,972 (95 percent) of 3,441,110 votes cast in the 2021 general election were analyzed. Ninety-seven percent and 93 percent of votes were analyzed in the 2020 and 2016 general elections, respectively.