New Yorkers move closer to automatic voter registration with passage of Queens senator’s bill

Courtesy of Gianaris’ office

The New York Automatic Voter Registration Act, legislation that would make it easier for all New Yorkers to vote, passed in the state Senate 40-20 on Wednesday, July 22.

State Senator Michael Gianaris explained his bill will automatically register eligible residents to vote upon interactions with various state and local agencies.

“While national efforts to establish more roadblocks to voting increase, it is critical we make it as easy as possible for all New Yorkers to exercise their right to vote,” Gianaris said. “With approximately 2 million eligible voters not currently on the rolls, automatic registration will make a huge difference in increasing our state’s voter participation.”

If the legislation is passed in the Assembly, it will bring New York in line with 19 other states, plus Washington, D.C. Gianaris has been a longtime advocate of voting reform having passed additional legislation to prevent more absentee ballots from being disqualified due to technicalities.

Gianaris also announced that his legislation to protect the rights of New Yorkers detained by law enforcement passed in the Senate. In June, the NYPD asked for habeas corpus rights, the right for a defendant to be arraigned in court within 24 hours, to be suspended due to the high volume of arrests made during the mass protests that swept the city in the wake of the George Floyd killing at the hands of police.

New York City Criminal Court Judge James Burke agreed with the NYPD and allowed a blanket exception to habeas corpus rules.

“New York is facing an unprecedented reckoning with our system of law enforcement,” Gianaris said. “One of the most egregious violations of civil liberties is the suspension of habeas corpus, one of the most fundamental rights of the accused in the United States. Preserving that right against police overreach is crucial to the rule of law and this legislation is critical to ensuring it is protected.”

Attorneys with the New York Legal Aid Society had presented the original writ while representing the protesters. The Legal Aid Society worked in tandem with Gianaris to draft this legislation strengthening protections around habeas corpus.

“This past June, hundreds of New Yorkers arrested at the George Floyd demonstrations were detained by the NYPD for well over 24 hours, deprived of their right to be swiftly brought before a judge,” Russell Novak, Staff Attorney with the Special Litigation Unit at the Criminal Defense Practice at The Legal Aid Society, said. “As a result, people merely accused of committing a crime were forced into cramped cells, at an increased risk of contracting COVID-19. This legislation will codify the protections secured in the landmark Roundtree case, which set a 24-hour rule for pre-arraignment detention. The Legal Aid Society thanks Senator Michael Gianars for sponsoring this important legislation to protect against abuses that disproportionately impact Black and Brown people,”

Brooklyn Assemblywoman Diana Richardson will carry the legislation in the lower chamber. Richardson was pepper-sprayed by police officers during a protest following the death of George Floyd.

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