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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 27 of 28)
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There should be within the board of elections a well-staffed public in-
formation bureau that would continually advise the public in an ob-
jective fashion, and encourage voter registration and voter participa-
tion.

The National Municipal League observes that —

The way information is distributed to voters bears a subtle relationship to the
equal opportunity afforded each voter. The experienced well-educated citizen may
have many sources of information on candidates and issues involved in an elec-
tion. The multitude of candidates, the voting mechanism, the form of ballot
present little problem to him. He knows of the behavior that is expected of him
at the polls as to identification, pulling of the levers, rules against loitering, etc.
The presence of party workers or even police may not disturb him. These condi-
tions may bewilder the inexperienced voter suflSciently to confuse him when he
goes to the polls, or even deter him from getting there. The kinds of information
disseminated to voters and methods of distribution are therefore an important
part of efforts to insure uniform voting opportunity.

I concur unequivocally and agree that the minimum information
made available by the board of elections in simple written form should
include —

Who is elig'ible to vote; when voting will take place and where;
procedure for casting ballots; understandable explanation of ballot
issues; names of candidates up for election and offices they seek; serv-
ices available to voters, including challenging procedures ; and explana-
tion of the function of the poll workers the voter is likely to encounter.

If we are really serious about the election process, and the desire to
have maximum participation in it, such information must be made
readily available by the board of elections.

The passage of S. 352 into law should, in New York City at least,
have the very beneficial effect of making available funds for such pur-
poses in addition to its main thrust of greatly increasing the size of
the electorate.

I believe that most of the problems we have in the whole area of
voter registration and the election process generally relates to a dif-
ference of philosophy. I suggested that too many of us do not in fact
l>elieve what we say .We do not in fact believe, that everyone ought to
be able to vote with ease and confidence, rather, that it is a public
obligation to see to it that this is the circumstance.

It is a governmental obligation. Too frequently we hear the com-
ments that if applicants are not willing to stand in line, they do not
really want to vote anyhow. Each time I hear that I am at a lose
because we are operating under different ground rules and they do
not know what I am talking about. I suggest it is not mere rhetoric



258

but it is essential in the first instance that full participation ought to
be the philosophy.

I am happy to say that essentially the New York Board of Election
Commissioners endorses full participation. We may disagree in terms
of how to implement things, but pliilosophically we are not apart. I
am very happy that is the case. Particularly this is true of Bill Larkin,
'who is a Republican. I am a Democrat, and Bill Larkin was presi-
dent of the board of directors and preceded me. I would hope that this
would have some impact on the committee, and would appreciate
No. 1, we are talking about a city of millions of people, wherein we
have more registered voters than some States have population. We
have a minimum of 3/2 million registered voters.

The Chairman. You have more voters in one precinct than the
State of Wyoming has in 100,000 square miles.

Mr. DiNKixs. I hope this would mean something to the committee
and to the Congress.

With respect to this particular bill, let me say at the outset, that I
find it and the board finds it highly desirable and desperately needed.
I will, before I am through, make reference to one or two areas that
perhaps deserve further consideration, but I do not see them as being
any real problem. As far as the bill is concerned, I think it is adminis-
tratively feasible as far as we are concerned in New York, and I would
imagine if we can do it, anybody can.

We have an archaic system in the city of New York. We pres-
ently must register people in a bipartisan fashion. It must be a Re-
publican and a Democrat in each instance. Our registration period is
slightly less than 10 months of the year. Three or four days in a
presidential year, we have what we call local registration, which takes
place in October, roughly 30 days before the general election. This
local registration is very costly — last year a little over $2 million.
'Wlien you consider that our total budget is but $11 or $12 million,
you can see how much is spent for registration in that limited period.
In local registration last year we registered 251,000 people, which was
incidentally down from other years, but we reasoned that this was
because of rain the main day, Saturday. As a matter of fact, we reg-
istered 125,000 people on the final day, Tuesday, which is really a half-
day operation.

We registered 453,000 throughout the rest of the year in a voluntary
effort, where registrars had card tables, and so forth, and were not
paid. This is a very difficult operation and it is very tough for us to
register large numbers of people.

The number of Democratic volunteers we have is about 10 to 1 over
the Republicans. This is not to say that the Republicans in New York
City are not interested, because that would be untrue. They are. As a
matter of fact, as I mentioned earlier, Bill Larkin of the board is a
Republican and no one could be more helpful than he.

We do not see fraud as presenting any problem at all. As a matter
of fact, one of my main staff people has been at the board of elections
for over 30 years, and I might add he is not what one envisages when
you think of people working at a board of elections for a long period
of time. He is not on crutches, he is a relatively young man who started
out at an early age, and while he may tend in some way to seem to be
a bit conservative, he is not in fact, and even he believes as an admin-



259

istrator, there are no problems of fraud. If anything, we can tighten
things up a bit.

The Chairman. That was precisely the suggestion here this morn-
ing by Senator Brock from Tennessee, was it not ? I believe you were
here at that time, where he was suggesting there has always been
fraud, but it is going to be a little tough to commit fraud if you get
this legislation through. That is a key point, because of this scare-
monger that is going on about throwing that dirty word around.

Mr. DiNKiNS. I could not agree with you more. We have been talk-
ing about mail registration in New York State also, and there will
probably be a bill offered soon. We are at the point in New York State,
in the New York State Legislature, where bills can only be offered
through the speaker's office at this juncture, and there has not yet been
such a bill offered, but I have reason to believe there will be one. What
success it will meet with is another question.

The reason I think there will be such a bill is that the Joint Legisla-
tive Committee on Election Law has proposed such this year. Of
course Ave in the city of New York have encouraged it and testified in
favor of such.

In my prepared remarks there is a copy of their recommendations,
and this is of significance, I think, in New York State for the reason
that the joint legislative committee is chaired by a Eepublican. Our
legislature, both houses, is controlled by Republicans and our Gover-
nor is a Republican. Most of upstate New York as opposed to New
York City is Republican. I think it fair to say, if the Joint Legisla-
tive Committee on Election Law offers this, that it is getting at least
serious consideration, as opposed to just any legislator offering a bill
which is in the hopper and there it sits.

As a matter of fact, there is a piece of legislation that has been of-
fered and offered with the sponorship of the joint legislative committee
that would provide for transfer of enrollment by mail, that is to say if a
person moves his residence and he is an enrolled voter he will no longer
have to come personally to the board of elections to effect that transfer.
And this would appear to have a politically, realistically very good
chance of passage, which I think is a giant step for us, because in New
York City to a large degree, we have a transient kind of population —
people move about a lot. This is a burden.

I suppose I should speak now to the one or two specifics of the bill,
of your bill, 352. The part in section 404 speaks of election officials
having the right to call on the administrator for assistance, which I
think is a very excellent provision.

The only trouble I have with it is, when you read the section of defi-
nitions and you read this, and if I assume correctly that elections of-
ficials would include a head of a subdivision, it would include the
Board of Elections of the city of New York, as opposed to the Secre-
tary of State or somebody else in the State, then we have this problem.

I would make this observation, that throughout New York State
because the bipartisanship built into our law, there is not to my knowl-
edge any election board that does not have an even number of com-
missioners with equal representations of the two major parties, so
that the potential for deadlock is obvious. I do not see this as any seri-
ous situation that cannot be very easily cured. I would respectfully
suggest that we would simply build in some alternative in the event
of such a deadlock. I do not care whether it was the Governor or



260

Mayor, just to provide a provision so that if two commissioners wanted
to seek assistance and the other two did not, on a four-man board, there
would be a way of getting it achieved. That is my only concern.

The Chairman. I might add on this committee, which is made up of
nine Senators, and Democrats are technically the majority party, I do
not recall a five to four vote, it would be very unusual if we had a four
to five vote, which helps also to make the point.

Mr. Denkins. The reason it is important to us is the section with re-
spect to local registration, the 3 or 4 days in October, has no prohibi-
tion against Sunday registration, although for many years people
have thought that was the case. Recently I have gotten a ruling from
our corporation counsel to the contrary saying there is no prohibition
against Sunday registration. But with respect to central registration
and branch registration, central registration is that which takes place
about 10 months a year, and occurs at the main office of the board of
elections. The branch registration is the same period of time and is the
authority — at least the authority that I use in having mobile registra-
tions with card tables and whatnot.

The idea is if we can have that on a Sunday around the churches or
w^henever large numbers of people congregate, while we await 352, we
could register large numbers of people. This is very significant.

In an instance where there were four men, nonetheless I have this
view, he had a view with respect to whether or not we ought to bring
suit — he did not stand in the way. Nonetheless, I would like to see if
your committee and staff deem it possible if you could work it out to
put in some language that would assist. There may be other factors
that I do not consider, in which case I might agree we should leave
it alone.

Another question is, section 405, although in subdivision (e) you
make the specific comment that the time relating to distribution of the
cards, no sooner than 45, no later than 30 days before, the language used
is general Federal election, I believe, and reading the section on defi-
nitions, I interpret that to mean the general election in November, as
opposed to all elections ; and if that be the case, even though such sub-
division says these cards should be available all of the time, which
obviously is a very good thing, I suggest that the committee might
do well to consider whether or not that is the best time for distribution,
particularly in the city of New York, the primary is our election. And
so that is the time that I would like to see the concentrated effort with
respect to registration.

Of course, if we have to think of it nationwide, it may be that Janu-
ary or February might be a better time. The ideal, best of all, would
be to have two such mailings around the time or prior to the

The Chairman. Your concern, if I understand it correctly, is you
are trying to get some sort of massive registration procedure in before
the primary ?

Mr. DiNKiNs. Exactly.

The Chairman. That is one concern you have over the 45-day mini-
mum ?

Mr. DiNKiNS. I have another concern about that-

The Chairman. That is one of them ?

Mr. Dinkins. If I were to choose between concentration of a cam-
paign around general election or primary, I suggest that the i^rimary is
the more important, even though fewer people vote in primaries, for the



261

reason that that is the election, in the city of New York, at least. In
many communities that actually determines who will be elected.

The Chairman. In many States, Southern States quickly come to
mind, as an area where that might be the conditioning factor, maybe
less so today than it used to be, but even so it has been a pattern. We
weighed that as carefully as we could, we are just not satisfied that
we have reached an ultimate answer.

It poses problems doing it that way, too. We are not going to avoid
or find a panacea for this, and we will give that very careful con-
sideration.

Mr. DiNKiNs. I think the probabilities are that whenever the dis-
tribution of cards, whatever that Avas, whatever time that was, that
those of us interested in voter registration would make available these
cards to the general public in any event. I am reasonably certain of
that. The other question I have is that the bill as drawn does not pro-
vide for a cutoff period for receipt of the cards by the boards of
elections.

It may be that it is intended that individual states or political sub-
divisions will promulgate their own rules and regulations within rea-
son in that area. If that be the case, fine.

The Chairman. Assuming they are not handled like Christmas
cards.

Mr. DiNKiNS. Right. If the cards are posted 30 days before general
elections with no provisions for when they are to be returned, we in
the city of New York have a very serious problem, and we have it even
now with our volunteer registration effort, because there is many a-
voter that stands in line on election day, and some volunteer has his
card home in a briefcase. We recognize this and we try to tighten up
the controls on distribution of cards for the volunteer effort.

This past November for the first time, we had far more courts than
we have ever had. In the past, pursuant to law, we have had a court
set up in each office of the board of elections, of each of the five boroughs
of the city of New York, for a total of five courts. In November, with
the cooperation of the judiciary for which we are very grateful, we had
24 more courts set up in schools around the city, polling sites, using
the principals' offices and setting up hotel phone lines into the board
of elections, wherein the judges could check to see if the people were
in fact registered. This was a problem in those instances wherein people-
arrived at the board of elections, at the polling site to vote and their
poll card was not in the book. We use a system whereby a person has
to sign a poll card.

In the absence of that card, the only way that person can vote is by
court order. So with the theory that the burden ought not be placed on
the individual voter to travel about to prove his eligibility we sought
to have more courts. But the reason that we have that problem in the
first place is the system of registration that we have and the system of
signing in that we have, because bear in mind that we have 3,500,000
voters minimum, divided into roughly 4,500 election districts.

So if you can envision 4,500 piles of cards sorted by hand, and for
this record I would like to say we have 328 permanent employees, and
we had 328 employees 10 or 12 years ago when the registration was a
million less, and of this 328 employees, 65 percent earn $7,500 or less,
and 23 persons are between $5,200 and $6,000. This work force is sup-
plemented throughout the year at various times of the year by people

91-577 O— 73 18



262

who make the grand sum of $15.75 a day. And this, in the city of New
York, where the cost of living is quite high. What I am suggesting is
that the manner which we do things in the city of New York is such
that the expenditure of one-fifth or one-sixth of our total budget for
a 3 or 4 day registration period with the low yield that it gives, is just
not the best use of money — I am not suggesting that — I am happy
that the Federal Government will pay us or assist us or subsidize; if
that were not the case, just the fact that they would authorize mail
registration in itself would save us money.

The Chairman. Even without extra subsidy coming into it or extra
manpower, the mere process.

Mr. DiNKiNs. Sure, because we spend $1 million of $2 million for
local registration, which in my prepared remarks, I think I last fig-
ured out to something like $8 per voter that we actually registered.
Fortunately, we registered almost half a million people in another
fashion at a far cheaper rate because of efforts of individuals who
volunteered.

If you accept the philosophy as you do in the very beginning, that
it is a public obligation, government should see to it that these things
be done, not necessarily Federal Government, but some government.

The Chairman. Or private groups who have every good intention
to make sure they get them out and get them registered.

Mr. DiNKiNS. Right. For instance I say I welcome assistance of the
League of Women Voters and other fine groups but there ought not to
be a need for a League of Women Voters, in the sense there should be
no need for the NAACP or the Peace Corps, Anti-Defamation League,
there should not be the need for these problems that they address them-
selves to. Those problems should not exist or should be handled by
government in the first instance.

The board of elections in New York should have an office of public
information. The National Municipal League which does an awful lot
of very fine work has observed that in the absence of information get-
ting out to all of the people in any manner, we have this situation
wherein those who are educated and sophisticated can find out how
to register, where to vote, and how to vote, and they are not intimidated
when they go to vote by mobs of police officers and people.

This is not true for some of us. This is another area where you have
a sort of subtle discrimination, because the city fathers do not provide
the funds necessary to establish this kind of unit to do the work that
the league of course does as much as anyone could ask of them.

The Chairman. If everybody was as perfect as some of us, we would
not even need government, but that makes the real point, that we ought
to aspire to excellence in governmental responsibility.

We will never achieve the ultimate, but we have got to be caught
crowding toward it as rapidly and responsibly as we can.

Mr. DiNKiNS. I agree wholeheartedly. I would say further that I
am very grateful for the work of your committee. We cite your re-
marks, your personal remarks as you opened these hearings back in
October or at least particular remarks, that I often cite of some of the
things you said in October 1971.

And we use it or at least we in New York City use it when we speak
to State officials with respect to various changes in the law and whatnot.



263

I suggest to them that these things are going to come, and they are
going to come and that in New York State, as the Empire State, it
ought to be in the advanced guard and we should change all laws now.

On the question of dual system

The Caihrman. Dual registration.

Mr. DiNKiNS. It is true if you have a State law that says you have
to register in person, or Federal law that says yovi may register non-
person fashion, two systems, one, I do not see this as an overriding
tremendous burden. No. 2, I am delighted with it because I know in
New York at least, in short order it would bring New York State into
line with the Federal Government and we would have a mail registra-
tion system throughout the State for all elections.

In New York City for instance where we have some 7,000 voting
machines, and this is not enough, we would either have to provide more
voting machines or one or the other of these elections would have to be
on paper ballot.

Our own law right now directs us to have elections with the use of
machines with rare exceptions. I am confident because of money and
other reasons that the New York State Legislature would very quickly
move and conform to the situation as outlined in S. 352.

The Chairman. And I gather from what you have just said there
that in this largest — one of the largest, I better not get into a fight with
California, one of the largest election units in the land, the State of
New York, that because of the immensity of this problem and its real
dimensions edging closer and closer toward this very concept and in
fact has through the joint commission, as you have just referred and
is now exploring this particular type of approach to registration.

It all adds up to implementing that, aiding and abetting it, and
crowding it along, making it easier so that it can bear fruit sooner than
otherwise might be the case.

Mr. DiNKiNS. That is accurate.

The Chairman. I think there is something to be said for the record
on that. This is not some sort of will-o'-the-wisp kind of approach that
was thought up for something to do here in a very busy committee. It is
like keeping mail moving, including post cards. It is great to have your
first-hand experience commentary on some approach like it. It is very
helpful to us.

Mr. DiNKiNs. May I say also that we would welcome you or any
members of your staff or committee to come to New York City to meet
with us, the commissioners and staff people, and we would show you
how to do things and perhaps this might be helpful in your total
deliberations.

I know that we would want you to know the problems, such as they
are, as we see them, and I personally see very few, if any. And prior to
coming here, as you might imagine I would, I distributed copies of the
bill to all of the commissioners and to our top administrators, and
asked for suggestions, criticisms, comments, and I think it fair to say
that the consensus that it is a final bill and we welcome it.

I hereby extend an invitation, at your convenience, convenience of
staff or committee; we would be very pleased to greet you in New York.

The Chairman. I assure you we will accept that invitation and seek
to avail ourselves of the firsthand examination of the situation, as it
prevails there in New York. We do not think we have to go to London



264

or Paris in order to examine who they might proceed with this. You
have a great deal you can teach us there in New York.

Mr. DiNKiNS. I listened to the testimony of one or two of the wit-
nesses earlier and the point was raised I guess by the Justice Depart-
ment that there seemed to be some question as to whether or not in-
creasing the registration rolls would increase the number of people
that vote. That came as a shock to me because I thought that was
axiomatic. I thought it was fundamental. And the National Municipal
League has done extensive research in this area and they have com-
piled a document and they have been abroad to Europe and to Lon-
don and to Canada, and all over the United States, and they have
reached that conclusion as have many others.

I was very shocked to hear that kind of testimony because I thought
that was very fmidamental and the only question was what do we do
about maybe 15 or 20 percent of those who are registered who do not
vote. That is a separate problem of course.

The Chairman. I might say I was shocked at that suggestion from
the Justice Department. That seemed to me to be a bit superficial,
reflecting what indeed ultimately was spelled out on the record that
there had been no attention really paid to this — too many other things
they had to be doing — even though : 18 months ago they were up here


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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 27 of 28)