The Voter Assistance Commission (VAC), a city agency dedicated to registering more minority voters, will succumb to the Giuliani administration’s four-year assault if mayoral-appointed commissioners get their way next week.
Under the federal Motor Voter program, citizens can register to vote at the Department of Motor Vehicles when they apply for or renew drivers’ licenses. Because 51 percent of city denizens don’t have drivers’ licenses, VAC oversees city requirements that other agencies–including welfare, health and youth services departments–hand out registration forms to clients.
On March 24, VAC board members introduced new guidelines that would require city agencies to submit their voter registration plans–but the proposals don’t specify penalties for non-compliant agencies.
An attempt to pass the rules failed, however, when pro-administration board members came up one vote short of the nine needed to pass the measure. VAC chair Dennis Walcott abstained from the vote would not say how he planned to vote when the board convenes in next week to take the matter up again. “[The regulations] need to have some stronger language,” Walcott said.
“These are bad regulations.” agrees Neal Rosenstein, government reform coordinator of the New York Public Interest Research Group, which pushed for the creation of VAC in 1989. “An agency could have nothing more than a cardboard box of registration forms in dingy corner of some branch office in Staten Island. The measure needs to have specific suggestions.”
The administration has always resisted VAC attempts to force agencies to fess up about its registration activities-or lack thereof. In 1995, a court ruling effectively eliminated the commission’s power to enforce regulations on city agencies by limiting the paperwork the city needed to file with VAC.
“I worry whether or not this is a conscious attempt to keep certain populations marginalized and uninformed, and therefore not active in the political process,” Rosenstein said. “The partisan ogre rears its head.”
“We’re closed,” said a mayoral spokesperson when asked about VAC late Friday afternoon.