The Justice Department has notified New York State officials that it may sue the state over what it says are widespread failures to comply with a provision of federal voter registration law that requires state drivers’ license applications to double as applications for voter registration, according to a letter obtained by The New York Times. In the letter, dated Jan. 6, the Justice Department lays out how the state’s Department of Motor Vehicles violates the law. The lapses “deprive numerous New Yorkers of important voter registration opportunities required under federal law,” according to the letter, which was signed by Vanita Gupta, the head of the civil rights division at the Justice Department. At D.M.V. offices throughout the state, a Justice Department investigation found, drivers’ license applications do not also serve as voter registration forms unless applicants request it, and the option is sometimes closed even to those who make a request.
The letter said that even among D.M.V. offices that allow voter registration, some do not pass registration forms to election officials in the time required by law. That finding echoes those described by the office of the state attorney general, Eric T. Schneiderman, in a report on voting issues surrounding the 2016 presidential primary.
Applications to renew drivers’ licenses online are also supposed to automatically serve as voter registration applications, the letter said, but they do not. When drivers submit a change of address to the D.M.V. online, that notification is also required to function as a change of address submission for voter registration, but in New York, the letter said, it does not.
The D.M.V. offers online voter registration separately from its other applications, but that is “no substitute” for combining the voter registration and drivers’ license application processes, the letter said.