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NY would automatically register voters under revised bill

Voters fill out their forms as they prepare to vote at a polling station in Brooklyn. (AP Photo/Alexander F. Yuan, File)

BY MARINA VILLENUEVE

New York would automatically add to the voting rolls any citizen who fills out a state form, under a revised bill that passed the state Senate on Thursday.

The bill targets an estimated 1.1 million eligible New Yorkers who aren’t on the voter rolls, said Senate Majority Leader Andrea Stewart-Cousins, voting advocates and other Democrats.

“We shouldn’t fear making it easier for eligible voters to vote,” Stewart-Cousins said.

The bill passed the state Senate 40-20. It now heads to the Assembly.

Senate Republicans, down to 22 seats in the chamber, argued Democrats were trying to sway elections in their favor. The Senate GOP also failed to pass an amendment to repeal a new bail reform law that ends cash bail for many New Yorkers.

Lawmakers scrapped a similar automatic voter registration bill last summer because of an error in its wording.

Last year, lawmakers voted to authorize driver’s licenses for immigrants in the country illegally. The mistake in the automatic voter registration legislation would have inadvertently added them to the voting rolls, even though they are prohibited from casting a ballot.

Lawmakers caught the mistake in the session’s final days and had said they would try to pass the corrected bill again.

The revised bill adds language to prohibit state agencies from sending applications from people “who are demonstrably ineligible to vote” to the state board of elections, according to an online summary of the bill.

The new bill also protects individuals who apply to register to vote without knowing they are ineligible.

Supporters said the legislation will modernize voter registration, reduce the chance of human error and save hundreds of thousands of dollars each year.

The Thursday vote on the revised legislation comes a day after Democratic Gov. Andrew Cuomo called for automatic voter registration in New York in his annual State of the State address.

New Yorkers, he said, must affirmatively act to register to vote when interacting with state agencies and said the state should make it easier to get registered. At least 17 states and Washington, D.C., have started or have plans to implement a system in which residents are automatically registered to vote when they have contact with the state, typically at the state’s motor vehicle agency, unless they decline.

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