Arbitrary 25-day Registration Cutoff Disenfranchises Tens of Thousands
NEW YORK ‒ The New York Civil Liberties Union, American Civil Liberties Union, and the law firm Latham & Watkins LLP filed a lawsuit today challenging New York’s 25-day voter registration cutoff for arbitrarily disenfranchising tens of thousands of eligible voters.
“There’s no excuse for excluding tens of thousands of potential New York voters from the political process,” said Donna Lieberman, executive director of the New York Civil Liberties Union. “It is well-past time to fix the outdated voting laws that have left New York lagging behind on voting rights. The arbitrary, lengthy registration cutoff denies too many New Yorkers the chance to be heard at the ballot box.”
In the 2016 presidential election, 93,649 New Yorkers were unable to vote because they registered after the deadline. New York ranks 47th in voter registration rates nationwide, which contributes to the state’s dismal voter turnout rate. In the 2014 midterm election, New York ranked 49th in the country in voter turnout, with just 29 percent of eligible voters casting a ballot.
“Many states have less restrictive registration deadlines, and 17 states and D.C. allow voters to register on Election Day. New York can and must do better,” said Emily Rong Zhang, an attorney with the ACLU’s Voting Rights Project.
Brooklyn resident Nicholas Dinnerstein, originally from New York, moved to Brooklyn earlier this year after spending several years away in Massachusetts and then California. He was unaware of the registration cut-off date and recently learned that he is unable to vote on November 6. Along with the League of Women Voters of New York, an organization whose mission is to increase voter registration and participation, Dinnerstein is bringing a lawsuit to vindicate his own voting rights and the rights of thousands of people disenfranchised by the cutoff.
Public interest in the people and issues on the ballot peaks in the 25 days before Election Day. Candidates debate each other, new information comes out about their campaign fundraising, endorsements are announced, and ads blanket the airwaves. Yet eligible voters who become motivated to vote by the flurry of electoral activity in the last four weeks of political campaigns find themselves unable to do so because they failed to register prior to the 25-day cut-off. The lawsuit charges that the voter registration cut-off is no longer necessary in the age of computers and needlessly disenfranchises thousands of voters. The suit claims that this disenfranchisement violates the state Constitution’s guarantee of the fundamental right to vote as well as its equal protection clause.
“Year after year, New York State’s voter participation rate ranks among the worst in the nation as the state continues to operate a set of outdated and antiquated voting laws and procedures,” said Dare Thompson, president of the League of Women Voters of New York State. “One of the worst is our burdensome registration deadline, an onerous 25 days ahead of Election Day. The League of Women Voters of New York State has found this oppressive deadline impedes our work and limits our ‘Get Out the Vote’ strategies.”