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Critics blast system as flawed as voter registration nears end

Bing Yui Lam of Bayside casts his vote during the September primary. The deadline to register to vote in the November general election is Oct. 12.
TimesLedger Newspapers

In August, Gov. Andrew Cuomo announced a new initiative designed to lift the state’s dismal voter registration numbers, and as the Oct. 12 deadline to register for next month’s general election draws near, critics in Queens said there is no good reason those numbers should be so low.

With less than 64 percent of eligible New Yorkers registered to vote — ranking the state 47th in the nation — Cuomo announced the state Department of Motor Vehicles would allow people to register to vote on its website.

“It’s great that New York state has taken the step and made online voter registration available,” said James Hong, of Flushing’s Minkwon Center.

After the September primary, the governor announced 16,000 people across the state registered to vote online.

The website, though, is in English and requires users to have either a driver’s license or a state-issued ID, which are just a few examples, Hong said, of the barriers that make it difficult for some Queens residents to register.

“It’s very cumbersome — if not disenfranchising — to have a kind of system like that right now,” Hong said.

Other New York peculiarities include a requirement that voters register their party affiliation by Friday in order to vote in the primaries for next year’s citywide elections.

“Having to register over a year and 25 days in advance doesn’t really make a lot of sense to us,” Hong said.

Reform advocates said that whether out of tradition or more insidious efforts to preserve power, there are many registration restrictions in New York that simply do not have to be in place.

For instance, these advocates wonder why voters even have to register before they go to vote? North Carolina allows same-day registration, where individuals who miss the state’s deadline can register and fill out an absentee ballot the day they go to the poll.

In Ohio, a felon’s voting rights are restored immediately after being released from prison, but in New York they cannot register to vote until after completing parole.

One of the most pernicious barriers to registering may be a lack of interest, one critic said.

Leroy Gadsden, president of the Jamaica branch of the NAACP, said many younger individuals have forgotten that many before them gave their lives in order to gain the right to vote.

Given that perspective, he said, every effort should be made to make the process of registering as accessible as possible.

“Voting is such a sacred right. There’s no cost too high to do that,” he said.

Voter registration forms can be obtained at the Queens city Board of Elections office, at 126-06 Queens Blvd. in Kew Gardens, as well as at libraries, post offices and most city government offices.

Forms must be postmarked by Oct. 12.

Reach reporter Rich Bockmann by e-mail at rbockmann@cnglocal.com or by phone at 718-260-4574.

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