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Editorial: New York is shamefully 47th in registering voters

Early morning voting on Election Day 2008 at

Early morning voting on Election Day 2008 at the Candlewood Middle School. Credit: Alan Raia, 2008

As people across the country cast ballots in this year's presidential election, New York is still trying to get residents registered to vote.

New York State did add 6,000 first-timers in recent months with an online tool from the Department of Motor Vehicles. For the first time, anyone with a license or nondriver's identification card can register to vote, update an address, or change party enrollment at the DMV's website, Since its limited launch in August, 16,000 people have used the online service. Starting this week, voter registration will also be available at motor vehicle offices throughout the state. At the offices, registration is as easy as swiping a plastic card.

Both are improvements, but the state's glacial embrace of technology highlights how far New York's registration efforts have to go before they truly are user-friendly and efficient. As a comparison, just last week, the New York Public Interest Research Group registered roughly 6,000 people on National Voter Registration Day. It's laudable that a nonprofit group made such strides, but providing easy registration is the responsibility of New York State.

The latest, but limited, changes in processing voter registrations are expected to save the state $270,000, and county elections boards another $350,000, by cutting out layers of paperwork and streamlining the process. The state is right to save where it can, but this new system is still lacking. It doesn't transmit the information electronically to the registrants' local elections offices. Instead, those forms must be sent by mail from one central Albany location.

A more uniform electronic transfer of information will come later, state officials say, but sooner would be better.

No surprise then that New York is ranked near last among all states -- in fact, 47th -- in registrations, with only 64 percent of its eligible voter population actually enrolled.

When it comes to turnout, the numbers are even more dispiriting.

In 2010, when there were races for Congress and every statewide office, only 32.5 percent of the New York's about 13.4 million eligible voters turned out to the polls, according to an analysis by the U.S. Election Project at George Mason University.

New York was barely ahead of Texas, a state where 32.2 percent of its 15.4 million eligible voters cast votes, and just behind Tennessee, where 34.7 percent of its 4.6 million eligible voters turned out, according to the study. Maine and Minnesota had the highest turnouts at about 55 percent.

There are many reasons why New York lags: There is no real uniformity among the 62 elections offices across New York. Those offices must police local elections, but the boards are often run like fiefdoms and loaded with partisan appointments.

Gov. Andrew M. Cuomo has made a good start with the online tool, but it's time for lawmakers to get serious about changing the state's archaic and antiquated voter registration systems.