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United States. Congress. Senate. Committee on Post.

Voter registration. Hearings, Ninety-third Congress, first session, on S. 352 and S. 472. Feb. 7, 8, and March 16, 1973 online

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Online LibraryUnited States. Congress. Senate. Committee on PostVoter registration. Hearings, Ninety-third Congress, first session, on S. 352 and S. 472. Feb. 7, 8, and March 16, 1973 → online text (page 26 of 28)
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call in the FBI to investigate the many apparent violations of voting
rights by this particular county recorder.

Farmworkers and working people all over the county simply do not
have the inexhaustible means to keep up this battle for the simple
right — I said right — not privilege, of registering to vote.

Legislation by the Congress to simplify registration procedures can
prove a boom to voting participation. We need to encourage, not
discourage, voters.

I am particularly interested in your bill, in reference to the pro-
visions stated on page 4, which state "Provide assistance to State
officials concerning the registration by mail program and election
problems generally,'' and also on page 6, where it states, "Registration
forms shall be prepared in a language other than English when a sub-
stantial number of residents of a post office delivery area use another
language." That. I really appreciate.

We, of the farmworkei^, urge you to enact legislation that would
put Federal machinery to work on behalf of citizens all over the
country, so that we will not have to depend on the goodwill or absence
of it on the part of county recorders, whether they be in Arizona or
elsewhere in our great counti-y.

We also urge that a hearing be held in Arizona to look at that
matter closely so that particular county recorder will not be able to
continue to violate voting rights of the citizens of Arizona. Thank
you.

The Chairman. I want to thank you for your testimony, Mrs.
Padilla. It is hard hitting, because it is so straightforward in the
illustration of the infraction of elementary voter rights. That gives
it a dramatic impact for the purpose of the committee's assessment
here. I must say in all fairness to tliat, that we have had other hits



251

of testimony of infractions of procedures under re^lar voter laws,
in which both political parties have been involved, and it stresses
again that the whole point of this is not to address itself to something
that was a partisan advantage of one party over the other, but a
procedure that was a disadvantage to citizenship, voting citizenship.
So with this illustration that you have given us in mind, and your
own eloquent statement, along with the materials that you submitted
for the record, we will be richer for you having been here.

I want to thank you very much.

Mrs. Padilla. By the way, the county recorder, after the decision
was handed down last Friday by the superior court, made the state-
ment that this put him in a badposition because he could not dictate
who could be registered in that county, and he said that he would
proceed on the State legislature to try to enact a law. Apparently
he feels he can get a law passed within 48 hours there, so we will
have that fight on our hands.

The Chairman. We would have to borrow from them how they
could moA^e so rapidly in legislation.

Mrs. Padilla. It is amazing how some laws are passed in Arizona.

The Chairman. Thank you very much.

Mrs. Padilla. Thank you.

The Chairman. Mr. David Dinkins, president. Board of Elections,
New York City.

It is nice to have you here. Sorry to have had to pull you back here
after lunch.

STATEMENT OF DAVID N. DINKINS, PRESIDENT, BOARD OF
ELECTIONS OF NEW YORK CITY

Mr. Dinkins. I understand. I am particularly happy to be here and
it is nice to meet you. I have been hearing reports of you from Kod
Crowlie, who I met first in New Orleans.

I deem it a privilege to have the opportunity to test:ify before this
committee before which have come many with unquestioned expertise
in the field of voter registration and the election process generally.
May I state at the outset, that I do not profess to be such an expert
but' that there are some things I believe to be fundamental and about
which there can be no compromise.

I, my fellow commissioners — our board consists of two Eepublicans,
William F. Larkin and J. J. Duberstein ; and two Democrats, Gumer-
sindo Martinez and myself — the administrators and other members
of our staff are grateful for this forum. Although there may be limited
differences as to specifics there is a consensus among all the commis-
sioners that a system of mail registration such as is provided in S. 352
is highly desirable, in fact, desperately needed.

It is our contention that participation in the electoral process is an
absolute right — not a privilege bestowed by government.

Basic to the guarantee of that right is the adoption and implementa-
tion of the philosophy that the ability to cast a ballot in an easy and
convenient fashion is a public, governmental obligation. The indi-
vidual citizen should not have that burden — it is a public obligation,
not a private obligation.

Our law requires that in order to vote one must first register to vote.
To this end, it must be recognized that registration should not be used



252

as a means of restricting the number of persons that vote. That was
once the apparent purpose of registration and although it is no longer
so intended, such restriction is often the effect of our system of

registration. ^ , t,t ^r i

In the 1968 Presidential election, only 59.1 percent of the New York
State voting population actually went to the polls. This number was
even less than the national figure of 60.1 percent. In the 1972 election,
with approximately 139 million Americans potentially eligible to vote,
less than 76,200,000 actually voted, or 76 percent of the approximately
100 million who are registered nationally. Note that this 76 percent
of those who are registered represents only 54.5 percent of the total
potentially eligible voting population. New York's statistics for the
1972 Presidential election are as low as the national average.

Nonregistration is an acknowledged national scandal in a country
possessing a great national heritage as a participatory democracy.
As has been noted here before, recent elections in Europe have turned
out 72 percent of the qualified electorate in Britain— considered low
there— 75 percent in Ireland; 76 percent in Canada; 80 percent in
France ; 87 percent in Sweden and Denmark. We in the United States,
and particularly we in the Empire State, suffer greatly by comparison.

The difficulties involved in registering to vote would appear to ex-
plain the discrepancies between voter turnout in the United States
and Europe.

While many believe that so-called voter apathy is mainly respon-
sible for lack of greater voter participation, I do not agree. I asso-
ciate myself with the remarks made by Senator McGee as he opened
hearings on a series of bills focusing on voter registration in October
of 1971 when he said in part :

It also seems somewhat hypocritical to me for these who hold the privilege of
political office or influence to call, on the one hand, for feasible participation by
all citizens in the affairs of state while, on the other hand, retaining barriers
which restrict and in some cases prevent voting.

A Gallup poll taken in December, 1969, concluded that it was not a lack of
interest but rather the residency and other registration qualifications that proved
to be greatest barrier to wider voter participation in our nation.

In New York City, firehouse and mobile registration efforts, and
the use of volunteer inspectors or registrars in the communities of our
city, conceived and implemented by the late great Maurice J. O'Rourke,
and the volunteer or community registration continued even now by
the board of elections headed until last July by Commissioner Lar-
kin, and now by me, have produced great increases in the number of
registered voters. Last year, we registered 453,000 in his fashion. But
this is not a saisfactory system. Our State constitution and State laws
require bipartisan registrars which greatly limits our ability to regis-
ter people with volunteer registrars because only about one-tenth as
many of the members of the Republican Party in the city volunteer
as do members of the Democratic Party. Consequently there is great
difficulty in providing bipartisan teams of registrars. We can do
much better. It is possible to reach most of the potentially eligible
voters by a system of mail registration.

We have proposed to the New York State Legislature of a system
of mail r-egistration on a very simple card form that would be easily
available, at each office of the board of elections, at public buildings
such as the offices of social service department, and post office ; at pri-
vate commercial places such as banks, utilities and telephone company



253

offices. This form could as well be included in public or governmental
mailings, and private mailings, including mailings of income tax re-
turns, welfare checks, telephone and utility bills.

It would be mailed to any office of the board of elections for process-
ing by teams of employees who meet the bipartisan requirement of our
State constitution. Enrollment, that is, designation by the registrant of
a party, could be handled on the same form.

Such a system would be no more susceptible to fraud than the system
we now employ.

I include the full text of a statement concerning mail registration
contained in a "preliminary report and recommendations for legisla-
tion for consideration by the 1973 legislation session of the joint legis-
lative committee to make a study of the election law and related stat-
utes" dated December 15, 1972. While I may not agree completely
with each element of the premise there stated, I certainly concur gen-
erally with the conclusion that mail registration is workable and de-
sirable in the State of Xew York. The point I wish to make by in-
cluding this statement is that such a plan is deemed to be feasible for
the entire State including rural upstate communities that are largely
Republicans as well as urban centers that are largely Democrats. The
joint legislative committee chairman, and both houses of our State
legislature as well as the Governor are members of the Republican
Party.

State of New York,
Joint Legislative Committee on Election Law,

.Vewj York, N.Y.

Proposal for a System of Uniform Mail Registration and Enrollment

The present system of voter registration in the state of New York has proved
to be a failure and voters are inconvenienced and frequently denied the right to
vote.

The existing system of permanent personal registration requires a citizen to
physically appear before a board of election inspectors, either on the days of local
registration, or at the offices of the board of elections on approximately 250
other days of the year.

To relieve the inconvenience caused by this system the concept of "mobile" or
"sidewalk" registration has been developed in recent years as an expansion of
the permanent personal registration system. These registration programs have
generally been implemented by utilizing untrained and unqualified personnel. All
reports seem to indicate the programs do not work effectively creating addi-
tional confusion and error.

Voter registration has been made a political football. Rather than being a
means of bringing the citizen into the electoral process, registration drives are
used by insurgent groups and others to create spurious issues based on claims
that select categories of citizens are being denied their right to vote. Tradition-
ally, voter registration drives appear to benefit the Democratic pary and the
insurgent groups within it.

This Committee feels the goal is to remove the registration process from their
political arena. Only in this way can our citizens obtain a free access to the
electoral process without fear or outside pressure to act.

A statewide system of mail registration to be adopted in place of the existing
system. Such a system would accomplish the following :

1. Facilitates the registration of voters in upstate areas, where the poor and
elderly have difficulty travelling the long distances required to vote.

2. Eliminates registration as a political issue. Registration would be restored
to its proper focus within the content of a citizens right and duty to participae
in the electoral process.

3. Permits additional time to check and verify the validity of registrations
filed.

4. Lingual problems are eliminated.



254

5. Substantial cost savings can be accomplished.

Mail registration provides a simple system within the understanding of all
people. A widely distributed application form could be provided. The application
would be designed to elicit only information personally known to applicant and
needed by the board of elections to verify the qualifying facts such as residence
and age.

The identity of applicant and his signature would be verified by responsible
individuals in the community who are readily identifiable. This group could in-
clude town and city clerks, county committeemen, union representatives, employ-
ers, notary publics, bank officers, and such public employees (welfare case work-
ers) as deemed appropriate. The applicant would prove his identity through means
such as personal knowledge of the verifying officer, a driver's license, and/or in-
formation available to the verifying officer such as employer's records and check-
ing account signature cards. The verifying officer would also be requested to con-
firm such other information contained in the application of which he has knowl-
edge or previously recorded information in his files. Thus, an employer could
confirm the individual's address, duration of residency, social security number
and physical description.

Applications, when completed, would be mailed to the board of elections by
applicant. Upon receipt, applications would be examined and processed by a quali-
fied and trained bipartisan board of central registration in the same manner as
presently provided for new and absentee registrations. In those cases deemed ap-
propriate, the board would order voter check procedures as presently required
for new and absentee registrations. This includes the verification of an appli-
cant's residence by an appropriate peace officer or board employee.

Registrations under the system would be "permanent" as at present.

Except for changing the actual process of registration, all other aspects of
the present registration system would be retained, basicly unchanged. Registra-
tion and enrollment lists would be maintained and processed in the same manner.
The mail check and cancellation for failure to vote for two consecutive elections
would still apply.

Lists of new registrants are presently required to be furnished each Republi-
can and Democratic county chairman. This part of the present system would be
modified to require the participation of the political parties in the verification
process. The political party would be required to challenge or accept the qualifi-
cations of any applicants within a fixed period of time of the submission of the
name to it. This would also eliminate voter challenges at the polling place, ex-
cept for circumstances arising after the date of registration. A new role for the
party organization and county committeemen is also created.

Under this system of mail registration no local registration days will be needed.
Thus the days of local registration can be eliminated or reduced. This alone
could result in tax savings in excess of five million dollars annually.

This proposal for uniform system of mail registration can also be modified to
apply to all other elections in the state which require registration.

Mr. DiNKiNS. Since 1964 we have used every conceivable method
within our law, and many which stretched the law to its limits, to
register our citizens. We have used firehouse registration, mobile
registration, sidewalk registration, and registration conducted by con-
cerned community and ethnic groups. In this we have utilized both
paid and volunteer registrars. The extent of these undertaldngs has
been expanded each year with increasingly encouraging results until
last year when we were able to register some 453,000 new voters. How-
ever, I must confess that this is probably the maximum we can hope
for under the present system in any year without changes in the law.
For instance, were we able to conduct our volunteer registration effort
on Sundays, we could greatly increase our yield. There is legislation
now pending in our State legislature that would remove the prohibi-
tion in our present law against registration on Sundays. Further, the
board of elections itself has brought suit in the U.S. district court
seeking to have the subject statute declared unconstitutional. But after
the voter attrition due to death, and so forth, was deducted from the
total registered in 1972 — some 800,000 when the number registered



255

at local registration is included — that number is reduced to about
500,000 come January 1973. We can therefore anticipate, no matter
what methods we use under the present law, that we will have a con-
stant nonregistered 35 to 40 percent of our otherwise qualified popula-
tion in New York City.

The inadequacy of results of this method is equaled or surpassed
by the defects and shortcomings which attend its operation. In order to
conduct a registration drive which will reach into every neighborhood
and reach every group in a city of over 8 million, there must be a work
force of tens of thousands over whose actions and conduct the 328
members of the staff of the board of elections could not possibly main-
tain intimate control. The result inevitably is that a number of these
temporary part-time and often voluntary registrars do not accurately
transcribe the information they receive from the registrant or they do
not timely transmit the completed forms to the board of elections.
These errors are reflected on election day in legitimately registered
citizens perhaps being deprived of a vote because of the absence of
their records of registration at the polling place. The potential for
error cannot be overlooked under such a loosely supervised process and
it is a constant subject of attention.

Mail registration provides the following elements whose remedial
qualities are self-evident.

If the citizen fills out his own registration form and certifies by his
signature to the correctness of the information it shows, the danger
of error in transcription is eliminated. Since delivery is to the board
of elections directly by mail from the registrant, the registrant is per-
sonally accountable for the accuracy of the form.

The pennanent staff of the board of elections are much more com-
petent to check the veracity of the facts and the authenticity of the
signature on a mailed registration form from other publicly available
governmental and business records than is a volunteer or paid regis-
trar or inspector whose total knowledge of the registering citizen is
most often derived from no more than a 2-minute personal exposure.
Thus, mail registration tightens security on registration rather than
relaxing it.

If the registering citizen mails the completed form directly to the
board of elections, there will be no danger of careless or intentionally
misforwarding or nonforwarding to their proper destination. The
board of elections promptly receiving the registration cards, there is
assurance that they will be processed and in the proper polling place
as authority for the citizen to cast his vote on election day.

The direct mail of registration forms by the registrant means that
registration only becomes a fact when the board of elections actually
receives the completed duly signed form. This permits the very widest
dissemination of blank registration forms without any fear of com-
promise or fraud. Governmental utility and many business mailings
can contain forms with invitations to the recipient to receive them.
They can be made available at all government, banks and public
utility offices. In this way the saturation effect which is the one ele-
ment missing in present registration systems, can be obtained. Also
the privacy afforded by mail registration in filling out the forms
obviates the timidity which often prevents the poor and less edu-
cated from appearing to publicly relate their personal information to
their more advantaged fellow citizens.



256

There is no danger of inadvertent or fraudulent voting twice by
the registrant executing two registration forms under mail registra-
tion. As long as the citizen fills both forms out correctly, they will
find their way into the same record binder destined for the one
polling place, so that the board of elections can simply destroy the
duplication to prevent multiple voting. As now, if a registrant dis-
honestly registers under a different name or address, the security checks
would disclose that and only then would corrective or penal action be
made necessary.

One additional advantage ensues from "mail registration." Under
present system the motivation which often impels volunteer registrars
to take part in a registration drive is to qualify to vote as many citi-
zens as they can who they know will vote for a certain candidate. This
results not in saturation solicitation for registration, which is the
goal, but selective canvassing with limited results. With this selec-
tive canvassing there is likewise identification of the candidate with
the registration effort and sometimes downright canvassing which
detracts from the nonpartisan spirit which should embue the effort
to enfranchise everyone w^ho is entitled and desires to vote. Mail
registration on the broadest possible scale would eliminate the par-
tisanship and selectivity which deprecates the spirit and effective-
ness of the existing registration drives for more voters.

One final point to be made is not controlling but is worthy of
weighted consideration. That is the question of expense. Last
year our local registration cost the city of New York approximately
$2,115,000 and realized 251,393 registrations during the 4 days that
it was conducted. That means for every such registration it cost
the city approximately $8 — and in a non- Presidential year when the
public interest is far less but our overhead is the same, the cost per
registrant is greater. Fortunately, as I mentioned earlier, in addi-
tion some 453,000 were registered by our volunteer effort, obviously
at a far lesser rate.

Some have estimated that with the use of mail registration the
cost per registrant would be 25 to 50 cents, including cost of print-
ing, postage, and processing. We are aware, of course, that unless the
entire registration system were by mail we would probably be obliged
to maintain two record systems and two ballot systems. We could not
have elections on our present voter machines without separate
machines for Federal and State elections or in the alternative, a new
type machine designed to accommodate each. Practically however.
New York State would in all probability adopt the Federal mail
registration system and of course S. 352 provides for some subsi-
dization. Accordingly, I am not troubled by this problem. It does not
defy resolution.

We find the subject bill, S. 352, to be generally satisfactory but we
make these observations :

Section 404 should take into consideration that in some political sub-
divisions of States, the election officials are an even number with equal
representation of the two major parties. A deadlock would provide
obvious problems. In such an event, there should be some alternative.

Section 406, while providing in subsection (E) that there is no time
limit upon the general availability of registration forms in post offices,
and so forth, directs the mailing at the time of the general election only.
Of course, for many of us the primary election is the determining elec-



257

tion. Perhaps there should be such a mailing in January, if only one
distribution, with forms readily available throughout the year. Better,
of course, would be a mail distribution in January and again near the
time of the general election. Also, whenever the mailing of forms to
postal addresses is to be, there should be some limit or cutoff date for
receipt by the board of elections of the registration form in order to
allow sufficient time for processing.

May I take this opportunity to commend the League of Women
Voters of the State of New York for its fine work in all areas of the
election process. There should be no need for an organization such as
the league, in the sense that there should be no need for the National
Association for the Advancement of Colored People (NAACP), Con-
gress of Racial Equality (CORE), or the Anti-Defamation League.


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Online LibraryUnited States. Congress. Senate. Committee on PostVoter registration. Hearings, Ninety-third Congress, first session, on S. 352 and S. 472. Feb. 7, 8, and March 16, 1973 → online text (page 26 of 28)