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New York Voters Crash Online Registration System

Service impacts likely explained by deadline to register for state primary.

When New York added the ability for voters to register online earlier this month, officials hoped it would add a lot of citizens to the state’s voter rolls. According to the office of Gov. Andrew Cuomo, fewer than 64 percent of eligible New York residents are currently registered to vote, which ranks the state 47th in the country in voter registration.

The addition of the new online registration capability was especially timely, given the Aug. 19 deadline for those wishing to participate in the state’s primary election, scheduled for Sept. 13.

“At the DMV, or in their own homes, New Yorkers will now have a convenient and secure way to ensure they are able to register and exercise their right to vote,” said Cuomo in a statement.

And New Yorkers seem to have gotten the message. Twitter activity on Friday suggested that an influx of would-be voters brought the new system to its knees.

“As with all things new, when the announcement was made and publicized, more people than normal tried to get online to apply for registration at the same time,” said Jackie McGinnis, a spokesperson for the New York Department of Motor Vehicles (DMV).

McGinnis told Government Technology, via email, that the site did experience some temporary capacity issues. The announcement of the new service led to several times more new voter applications per day than it received when the system was in soft launch mode. As of Aug. 17, roughly 1,000 voters have submitted applications.

Officials are hopeful that the online capability will not only enhance access for New Yorkers, but save time for DMV staff members, who manually process 300,000 registration applications annually.

The online system also enables users to make changes to their address and political party affiliation, and offers additional foreign language capabilities. In addition to Spanish language materials, applications are now available in Korean, Chinese and Bengali.

Residents who are registering to vote using the online system must verify their identity with a driver’s license or state-issued identification card. The DMV website notes that its role is not to actually register voters, but rather to process registration applications and forward them to county elections boards for their review.

According to the Brennan Center for Justice at the New York University School of Law, 14 other states either offer online voter registration now or have plans to do so in the near future.

New York voters who want to participate in the upcoming presidential election must register by Oct. 12.