SARATOGA SPRINGS — “There are 51 million eligible voters in the U.S. who are not registered to vote,” said Chris Deluzio, counsel for the Brennan Center for Justice at New York University School of Law, during a presentation at Skidmore College on Tuesday night.
“One out of every four eligible voters is not registered, and 6.1 million are unable to vote because of a criminal conviction,” he said.
In the second of three League of Women Voters Democracy Series presentations, Deluzio talked about how current and pending laws keep people from the polls.
“We are still struggling to protect voting rights one hundred-plus years after Susan B. Anthony’s death,” moderator Patricia Nugent said to an audience of about 150 in Gannett Auditorium. “And tonight, the Saratoga County Board of Supervisors voted against early voting and automatic voter registration.”
Several in the audience booed the local vote.
Before turning the mic over to Deluzio, Nugent thanked Saratoga Springs Supervisor Tara Gaston for attending and for her Tuesday vote in favor of early registration.
“I am very much in support of early voting,” Gaston said in an interview on Wednesday. “We need to make it as easy as possible to vote; it is the ‘bedrock of democracy.’ ”
Prior to Tuesday evening’s voter suppression presentation, the Saratoga County Board of Supervisors met to vote on its 2018 Legislative Agenda that serves as its blueprint for the year.
But item three of 14 on the county’s annual agenda — opposition to the state’s proposal for early voting and automatic voter registration through the Department of Motor Vehicles — was one of contention among many local residents, and there were 50 advance letters urging the supervisors to reconsider their position.
“Of every comment I received, all were asking the board to not make it part of the agenda. They were not all from Saratoga Springs, but also from around the county,” Gaston said. “I moved to amend the agenda, to remove item number three.”
Fellow Saratoga Springs Supervisor Matthew Veitch and Gaston voted against item three and the overall agenda because of stated opposition to early voting and automatic registration renewal.
Still, the legislative agenda was approved by remaining board members as written by the board’s Legislative and Research Committee, said Gaston, who also opposed item three as a committee member.
“It took a bloody struggle to pass the 14th and 15th amendments and it continues today,” said Deluzio on Tuesday night, giving a history of voter suppression in the U.S. “Disenfranchisement laws suppressed the African American vote, and we had white political dominance.”
Deluzio detailed legislative changes that improved voter access over the years. But he explained how some states continue to propose and sometimes adopt laws that still make it more difficult for certain groups to vote.
He said that the Voting Rights Act of 1965 forced states with a history of suppressive laws to get a preclearance for election law changes, but the Supreme Court intervened.
“They shut down the preclearance as unconstitutional, and now we must challenge after the fact,” Deluzio said. “It was a major setback for voting rights.”
According to Deluzio, legislators across the country are trying to reshape state voting laws, and in several places, it will soon be harder to vote: Five states have already enacted bills to cut back on voting access and one more is on the verge of doing so.
In 2017, 14 states were considering new voting laws that restrict voting, similar to the Saratoga County Board of Supervisors’ opposition to early voting and automatic voter registration through DMV.
“This year, as of Feb. 13, there are 28 bills in 14 states to restrict voting,” he said. “New Hampshire is trying to make it harder for students to vote.”
One of the reasons the Saratoga County Board of Supervisors is opposed to early voting is cost, even though earlier this month Gov. Andrew Cuomo added $7 million to his proposed budget to help counties with early voting costs.
Gaston said there has not been a cost analysis of what it would actually cost the county.
Deluzio said the changes to voting laws often save money and making it easier to register and vote will get more voices heard. He cited several examples: In Oregon, they added 400,000 new voters; and Washington state saved $125,000 in the first year of easier access to voting and registration.
“15 states have introduced automatic voter registration bills in 2018,” Deluzio said. “32 others carry over from 2017, and New York is an example of that.”
Also addressing the security of U.S. elections, Deluzio said cyberattacks are far too common and that the majority of the nation’s voting systems are antiquated and vulnerable to attack.
More than 500 election officials in 41 states surveyed by the Brennan Center said they will use machines and computers in this year’s midterms that are more than a decade old.
Deluzio said the Secure Elections Act of 2017, if passed, could eliminate paperless voting machines, which experts say are the most vulnerable to hacking and tampering. It would also expand the use of post-election audits, which are currently rare and usually only used in the event of a recount.
On Wednesday afternoon, the New York Assembly passed the Democracy Protection Act, the strongest and most comprehensive reforms in the nation mandating transparency in political advertising, requiring online platforms to maintain an archive of political ads and protecting state elections from foreign influence.
“We all know now that Russia attempted to undermine our democracy. We all know, with greater and greater granular understanding, that basically Vladimir Putin had a dark money super PAC deeply engaged in trying to impact our elections. And we all know that they will be back,” said Michael Waldman, who heads the Brennan Center, regarding New York’s initiative. “We need Washington to act to protect our country and the security of our democracy, and unfortunately it is not doing so. It is vital that states like New York step forward to protect our citizens and protect our democracy.”