UPDATE [Jan. 14, 2020 at 11:33 a.m.] – Sen. George Borrello has offered a response to the criticism from the New York Young Democrats as well as their call for an apology from the senator for his statements made last week while debating the AVR bill:
“I do not intend to apologize to Democrats who imposed and stand by a so-called ‘reform’ that is letting dangerous criminals back out on our streets and putting every New Yorker at risk.
“I am sorry, however, these young Democrats misunderstood my position regarding automatic voter registration. My comments on the Senate floor related to automatically registering voters and using their personal information without their actual consent. On top of this being a tremendous burden for county governments, it creates fertile ground for voter fraud and exploitation.
“Anyone who is an American citizen who wants to vote, should vote. I cannot stress that enough; there is no cohort of people who should not be voting if they wish to vote of their own free will. Generations of American sons and daughters have fought for and died protecting that privilege, which is the foundation of our democracy.
“The partisan response by some is a typical distortion that looks to deflect attention away from real issues that irresponsible legislation creates.”
– Sen. George Borrello
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ALBANY – Newly sworn-in State Senator George Borrello (R-Irving, NY 57) is drawing criticism from a group of Democrats for statements he made last week while debating a piece of legislation.
The New York State Young Democrats group says it is condemning what it calls “anti-disabled” and ableist remarks made by Borrello on the first full day of the 2020 legislative session.
During a floor debate on Thursday regarding a bill to enact Automatic Voter Registration (AVR), Borrello said he was opposed to the bill partly because it would give people with cognitive disabilities the ability to vote.
“This is about people only coming in contact with government in some way. This is not about registering everyone. This is about registering people who have come into government to collect benefits, 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,” Borrello said.
Borrello also said he was opposed to the bill because it would likely add additional costs to local governments and also encourage a “tsunami of fraud.”
In response to Borrello’s comments, Young Democrats member Seamus Campbell – who also is the Disability Issues Caucus Chair for the national Young Democrats of America group – said Borrello should be ashamed of himself.
“Senator Borrello literally said people with mental illness and cognitive disabilities are too dumb or unbalanced to vote. He should be ashamed of himself,” Campbell said in a statement. “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.”
Young Democrat’s Rural Caucus chair Paolo Cremidis also said that he was troubled by the fact Borrello is targeting a specific group of people who are otherwise allowed to vote.
“George Borrello is peddling fear for the sake of peddling fear,” Cremdis said “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.”
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.
Chautauqua County Young Democrats president Frank Besse also shared his concern over the comments.
“It’s disappointing to see our representation in Albany speaking out against legislation that will strengthen democracy in New York State,” Besse said. “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.”
The Young Democrats group now says Borrello needs to apologize for his comments to his constituents and to the broader Upstate New York community.
“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,” Cremidis said.
Borrello was sworn in as state senator for New York’s 57th senate district last week after he won the seat in a special election in November. He will finish the remainder of the term initially won by former Sen. Catherine Young, who resigned from the post in early 2019 after taking a job with Cornell University.
The proposed Automatic Voter Registration 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 11 states and the District of Columbia already provide automatic registration when citizens interact with state agencies such as the DMV, along with 7 other states that have passed legislation or committed administratively to create automatic registration systems, but not yet implemented it.
According to the Brennan Center for Justice, the states that have already enacted AVR have seen the rates of voter registration rise to be as much as 94%.
WRFA has reached out to Borrello’s office via email to see if he would respond to the criticism and demand for any apology.