The New York State Young Democrats (NYSYD) condemn the anti-disabled and ableist remarks made by newly-elected State Senator George Borrello (R-57) on the first full day of the 2020 legislative session, Thursday, January 9, 2020, during a floor debate regarding a bill to enact automatic voter registration (AVR) when he said that the bill would enfranchise people with cognitive disabilities who, he claims, lack the requisite skills to understand how to vote.
The bill, if enacted, will automatically register people to vote after they fill-out paperwork with certain New York State government agencies – most notably the Department of Motor Vehicles. Currently, when a person goes to a DMV office to get a license, permit, or other state identification, they can check a box to indicate that they wish to have their information forwarded to the New York State Board of Elections (BOE) so that they will be added to the voter rolls. The AVR bill would do the opposite: the person would have to check a box to actively opt-out of their information being sent to the BOE. According to the Brennan Center for Justice, the states that have enacted AVR have seen the rates of voter registration rise to be as much as 94%. Furthermore, The Nation reports that as a result of its AVR law, Oregon saw a 4% increase in voter turnout from 2012 to 2016.
While explaining his plans to vote against the AVR bill Sen. Borrello finished his remarks by saying:
This [bill] is [also] about registering people who have come into government to collect benefits, [and] to, perhaps, address mental health issues they may have. Those are the folks who are automatically be registered – people who may not even understand the impact of voting. It’s about influencing people who, otherwise, should not understand and will not understand. I find that really abhorrent. So, I will be voting ‘no’ on this.
“It is quite a feat to show yourself to be ableist on your first day at a new job,” said NYSYD and Young Democrats of America Disability Issues Caucus Chair Seamus Campbell. “Senator Borrello literally said people with mental illness and cognitive disabilities are too dumb or unbalanced to vote. He should be ashamed of himself. Borrello thinks that people with disabilities lack the ability to learn about the role and importance of democracy and how to do the necessary research about the issues and candidates on the ballot. As a person who has dealt with clinical depression for his entire adult life, I am both shocked and disgusted that to learn that he honestly thinks that my condition is in any way a barrier to being an informed citizen and active voter. The fact that I have not missed a single election – primary, general, run-off, or special – in over 5 years should be proof that his beliefs are just plain wrong.”
Under New York State Law, any United States citizen, a resident of New York State for at least 30 days, and over the age of 18, and is not currently serving time for a felony conviction can register to vote. Furthermore, the only persons empowered to remove a person’s voting rights due to mental capacity is a judge.
Said Paolo Cremidis, NYSYD Rural Caucus Chair, “George Borrello is peddling fear for the sake of peddling fear. I am troubled by the fact that he is targeting folks to exclude via automatic voter registration. The issue of mental health is not something that we can joke about. He needs to apologize for his comments to his constituents and to our broader Upstate New York community. Making comments like these do not do anything to help represent Upstate.”
“It’s disappointing to see our representation in Albany speaking out against legislation that will strengthen democracy in New York State,” said Frank Besse, Chautauqua County Young Democrats President. “Not only does Mr. Borrello position himself in opposition to empowering the people of our state he does so in a way that incites baseless fears and offends common decency.”
“It makes total sense that Senator Borrello would say this in 2020 of all years,” said NYSYD President Patrick Jordan. “The GOP in New York knows that with Trump on the top of the ballot this year, they are vulnerable because there will be an even bigger surge in voter turnout than we saw in 2018. So, their only recourse to save themselves electorally is to add more barriers so that people cannot or will not go to the polls in November. The New York State Young Democrats just found yet another reason to mobilize this year against Republicans up and down the ballot and we have added a new candidate we’re targetting: George Borrello.”
The New York State Young Democrats call on Senator George Borrello to apologize immediately for his statements. NYSYD plans to organize and mobilize its members so that 2020 will be the only year Borrello spends in Albany.
To view Senator George Borrello’s floor remarks in their entirety, please visit https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=UuxWppCmy30.