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Gov. Andrew M. Cuomo signs law permitting automatic voter registration

A woman and child walk past Laurae Caruth,

A woman and child walk past Laurae Caruth, right, volunteer with Christian Cultural Center Social Justice Initiative's voter registration drive, as she sits at a table where she registers voters on Sept. 18, in Brooklyn. Credit: AP/Bebeto Matthews

ALBANY — A new state law will allow New Yorkers to register to vote when they receive social services, register a vehicle or apply for unemployment or disability checks beginning in 2023.

Gov. Andrew M. Cuomo on Tuesday signed the bill passed earlier this year by the State Legislature to improve New York’s voter turnout, which trails that of most states.

The law calls for "automatic voter registration" through an electronic form that will be available at many state and county government offices beginning in January 2023.

"Access to the ballot box should be easy and fair," said the bill’s co-sponsor, Senate Deputy Majority Leader Michael Gianaris (D-Astoria). "Enacting Automatic Voter Registration will go a long way towards improving voter participation."

Assemb. Latrice Walker (D-Brooklyn) said the legislation represented "monumental election reform … This bill will remove one of the many barriers in our election system and help New York improve its dismal record of voter turnout."

New York joins 18 states with automatic voter registration, according to the National Conference of State Legislatures.

The U.S. Election Assistance Commission found that 33% of all applications for voting registration — more than 25 million — came from motor vehicle offices nationwide during 2016. Just 17% were mailed-in applications, down from 23% in 2012.

In New York, automatic registration to vote will be available at state motor vehicle offices in every county.

Voters will be able to register automatically as they access services through the state departments of health; temporary and disability assistance; labor; and vocational and educational services for individuals with disabilities.

Clients of county and city social services departments and the New York City Housing Authority also will be able to register to vote automatically as they do business with the agencies.

Applicants who aren’t U.S. citizens must check a box on the voter registration form that warns fraudulent registration could result in charges and deportation.

But the law also says someone who registers but isn’t "willfully or knowingly" violating the law "shall not be guilty of any crime."

Data provided by the applicant can’t be used to prove U.S. citizenship.

Information regarding citizenship also can’t be "retained, used or shared for any other purpose except as may be required by law."

New York State recently won a fight against the Trump administration to keep deny the citizenship status of licensed drivers to federal immigration officers.

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