Testimony before the New York State Senate Standing Committee on Elections
April 24, 2009
Thank you for the opportunity to testify here today. I will comment on S1616, S3372, and S3996.
Fiscal Impact of S1616, S3372, and S3996.
First, I am concerned about the fiscal impact of these three bills. All of their Fiscal Implications paragraphs say "None." However, one can foresee costs associated with these changes. I urge this Committee to make some provision to authorize state funds to be allocated to the counties to support their implementation of these changes, or to reimburse actual expenses related to these changes.
Potential Costs related to bills S1616 and S3372 that provide for election-day voter registration.
S1616 and S3372 provide for election-day voter registration, and call for measures to adequately safeguard against deception and fraud by requiring proper proofs of residence. One can foresee
Perhaps this Committee can send a letter to our county Boards of Elections to formally request them to submit estimates for costs that might be associated with these changes.
S3372: Omission of Citizenship in Suggested Instrument for election-day voter registration.
S3372 contains a suggested instrument to be executed by any person who registers on election day. I urge that this instrument contain mention of citizenship.
The currently-used New York State Voter Registration Form mentions the requirement for citizenship three times.
1. Box 1 asks "Are you a U.S. citizen" and provides boxes for "Yes" and "No." It then directs
"If you answered NO, do not complete this form.”
2. Box 12 is contains:
AFFIDAVIT: I swear or affirm that
* I am a citizen of the United States.
3. The back of the form states:
TO REGISTER YOU MUST:
* Be a U.S. citizen.
Three repetitions of the requirement for citizenship would probably be clear to most people. However some persons might think that the instrument suggested by S3372 somehow supersedes what is on the voter registration form, and that the suggested instrument indicates all requirements. Because the suggested instrument repeats the voter registration form’s requirements for residence but omits repetition of the requirement for citizenship, this omission could be misleading to registrants and poll workers, and could lead to avoidable disputes.
I am not suggesting that registrants provide proof of citizenship, and I would oppose such a requirement.
Bill number S3996 would allow voter registration forms to be submitted no later than 10 days before an election. My concern here is the fiscal impact if large numbers of such forms are delivered to Boards of Elections on the last day. In such cases, Boards may have to hire temporary workers at premium prices to work at night and over the weekend to process all the forms.
Many organizations do the valuable work of registering voters. Our City Board of Elections has urged these organizations to turn in the completed forms as they are filled out, rather than holding them until the deadline.
I urge this committee to ask our good government groups to suggest reasonable ways to enable our Boards of Elections to receive and process registration forms in a steady flow, but at the same time not to impair voter registration drives or the validity of the filled-out forms.
For example, perhaps some incentive can be devised to encourage forms to be submitted within a month of being filled out.
Final Comment on Fiscal Implications.
In collaboration with another activist, I am just completing a study of lever voting machine replacement costs in New York City. As of today, our estimates are:
NYC Replacement of Levers--Costs we could estimate: Low High
First year costs $25,078,702 $40,875,993
Annual costs after the first year $3,868,645 $13,674,769
Because some detailed information we needed is not available to the public, we produced “low” and “high” estimates. Either way the costs are high--because at this time, our city is short of money and our City Board of Elections budget has been cut deeply.
Budgets and cutbacks are problematic now for all parts of our government. I am concerned that we are creating future election problems by cutting our Board of Elections’ budgets while still expecting the Boards to function as usual and to have the resources to make additional, reasonable changes. That is why I urge this committee to look more carefully at the issue of fiscal implications, and to provide state support where needed.