Officials Raise Concerns About Automatic Voter Registration

Bill passed State Senate last week

WBEN Newsroom
January 13, 2020 - 4:00 am

BUFFALO (AP/WBEN) - 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 40-20 on Thursday.

Senate Majority Leader Andrea Stewart-Cousins, voting advocates and other Democrats say the bill targets an estimated 1.1 million eligible New Yorkers who aren't on the voter rolls, and the bill now heads over to the State Assembly.

The 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.

State Senator Pat Gallivan is not pleased about the passage in the senate, saying there are a host of problems that accompany the legislation.

"First and foremost...they come with no money - they're unfunded mandates," he said. "It's the state dictating to local communities what must be done and you've got to figure out how to pay for it."

Of course, Gallivan is also concerned about the potential for people who aren't legally eligible to vote to now have easier access to a voting booth.

"Some people have more concerns than others - I don't believe that there's this great conspiracy, but I think the system is susceptible to those that are undocumented, and here, undocumented and not eligible to vote in New York State, that would automatically be registered," said Gallivan.

Listen to Gallivan's full comments below:

And that brings up issues for the sanctity of elections, but also for the undocumented immigrants themselves, according to immigration lawyer Matthew Kolken.

"If you're not a citizen of the United States, if you're a Green Card longtime lawful permanent resident of the United States, if you register to vote, automatically even, or vote, that has been interpreted by the Department of Homeland Security as a false claim of United States citizenship that carries with it the very real possibility of the institution of removal proceedings," said Kolken. "You can face deportation, and there may not even be a waiver for it."

Erie County Clerk Mickey Kearns has long been an opponent of New York's Greenlight Law, which allows a path for undocumented immigrants to obtain drivers licenses. As one can imagine, Kearns isn't the biggest fan of this bill either, and he says the wording of this bill is in direct conflict with mandates within the Greenlight Law.

"When they passes this bill (yesterday) in the State Senate, what it did is it put it in conflict with the Greenlight Law because according to the Greenlight Law, we are not allowed to ask someone what their status is, and in this bill, it says we will have to ask for status."

However, while concerned, Kearns hinted that he's going to reserve full judgement until he sees a final bill because there could be changes made before all is said and done.

"We'll see what happens," he said. "Just because one bill passes doesn't mean there's not another version that passes, that there's not amendments and changes. This may not be not be the final bill, but obviously from what I'm reading and what I'm seeing, this is very troubling."

Listen to Kearns' full comments below:

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