Access to the ballot could take a big step forward in New York, after a bill to establish automatic voter registration (AVR) passed the state senate last week. If the assembly and Gov. Andrew Cuomo approve the measure, eligible voters will be automatically added to the rolls when they have contact with the Department of Motor Vehicles or other government agencies, unless they opt out.
New York wouldn’t be alone in expanding access to voting. It would be the 17th state, plus the District of Columbia, to approve AVR since 2015, when Oregon kicked off the trend. Some of those states, including New York, have also adopted other reforms in recent years, like same-day registration, making it easier to vote by mail, and restoring voting rights to people with past convictions.
But as encouraging as this wave of reform is, it has coincided with a movement backward among other states over the last decade, which shows no sign of letting up: large-scale voter purges, restrictive registration rules, tough photo ID requirements, and in Florida, a cynical bid to make rights restoration as difficult as possible. These efforts — which tend to hit racial minorities, the young, and the poor hardest — have been aided by Supreme Court decisions that have hobbled the Voting Rights Act and paved the way for new restrictions.
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