By RYAN WICKER
Attorney General Eric T. Schneiderman today announced that his office has issued an opinion advising Suffolk County that online voter registration, including use of electronically affixed handwritten signatures, is legal in New York State. The determination is in response to a letter sent by Suffolk County to the Attorney General’s office in February, requesting an opinion as to whether implementing online registration would be permitted by State election law.
“Voting is the cornerstone of our democracy, and we must strive for and encourage the highest levels of voter turnout and participation,” Attorney General Schneiderman said. “At a time in New York where our citizens experience too many barriers to participation, I am gratified that this opinion invites a new era of truly online voter registration, an incredibly exciting step that will help make the state election process more accessible and simpler for all. I encourage civic and technology groups to help develop an online registration system that can bring our electoral process into the 21st century.”
A fully online system of voter registration would streamline the process for many voters, and would allow for electronically affixed handwritten signatures on enrollment forms, expanded and easier voter registration, and the ability to conduct online voter registration drives. For instance, the opinion enables civic engagement organizations to email thousands of eligible New Yorkers, who could complete voter registration right on their mobile device.
“With this opinion, the NY State Attorney General has fundamentally advanced the idea that technologies we use daily can increase civic participation and voting,” said Andrew Rasiej, Founder of Civic Hall and Chairman of New York Tech Meetup. “The future of 21st century civic engagement is now made in New York.”
The Attorney General is currently exploring convening civic and technology organizations to develop mobile and online applications that would be able to host a voter registration form that could be fully completed online.
The Attorney General’s office determined that while state law requires “a place for the applicant to execute the form on a line which is clearly labeled ‘signature of applicant,’” and requires a signature of a “quality and likeness to a signature written with ink,” it nevertheless permits acceptance of an electronically affixed handwritten signature on voter registrations. In addition, the law requires any personal registration application completed online to be mailed or delivered in person to the board of elections, though that transmittal can be accomplished by a third party, as is the case in third party voter registration efforts.
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