They tell you that when you have an overwhelming list of tasks to accomplish, tackle the easy stuff first.
That philosophy should apply to the comprehensive list of changes proposed Tuesday by state Attorney General Eric Schneiderman to improve voter access in New York.
Anyone who believes in the concept of representative democracy — which hopefully includes the people who serve in elective office — should embrace any opportunity to make it easier for citizens to participate in elections.
That means making it more convenient to register and vote and to encourage more people to come to the polls through electronic access to voter registration forms and absentee ballots, allowing people to register and update their registrations online, shortening the deadlines for registering and changing party affi liation, allowing automatic registration through state agencies and schools, expanding voting hours and voting days (early voting), and reducing the number of primary elections.
Other state governments with far less money, a far less sophisticated electronic communications network, and at least as many political obstacles to overcome have managed to enact many of these common sense reforms.
Yet somehow, putting this basic concept has eluded our representatives in Albany.
Maybe we’re trying to bite off more than we can chew. New York government is usually playing catchup when it comes to innovative ideas. Heck, we don’t even have Uber yet
Rather than try to force a comprehensive list of reforms down lawmakers’ throats all at once — which essentially ensures that nothing will get done on any of it — let’s try tackling the problem by taking little bites instead.
Schneiderman’s New York Voters Act is chock-full of good ideas. Which ones can we check off first?
The easy stuff will involve changing policies and practices. Let’s start by reducing the number of state primaries from three down to one. Yes, we have three primaries in New York — one for federal offi ces, one for state, and another for local offi ces. It’s idiotic.
The AG suggests late June. for primaries. But September seems to be a better time. People are back in the groove after summer and it’s close enough to the general election, candidates won’t have to spend as much time and money campaigning in a shorter election season, and voters won’t feel like they’ve been inundated with campaign garbage forever.
Voting times? They should be consistent and convenient. All counties have the ability to keep the polls open from 6 a.m. to 9 p.m. Yet in some elections, such as primaries and school elections, polls don’t open til noon and close at 8. Don’t make people guess.
Another easy one. Put all the forms online and remove the requirements that limit absentee voting. If people want to vote by paper ballot ahead of the election instead of going to the polls, remove the impediments. That’s the first step to early voting.
Change the deadlines. Let people register and change party affiliations closer to election day. Existing standards should be adequate to reduce voter fraud.
Let felons who have completed their sentences, been released and have paid all fi nes and restitution to vote without having to jump through a bunch of legal hoops, like they have to do now. People who participate in our democracy are more invested in it.
Let more voters register at more state government sites besides boards of election and the DMVs, as Gov. Andrew Cuomo has proposed, and have any interaction result in automatic voter registration. If the DMV can handle it, so can other state agencies.
The other modernization efforts such as early voting and same-day registration will require more time and a commitment of state dollars to help local governments offset the added expense, and perhaps even a change in the state constitution.
At the very least, though, we can get moving on some of these reforms, rather than waiting for yet another comprehensive package including all of them to be proposed and, as usual, go nowhere.
Rather than try to force a comprehensive list of reforms down lawmakers’ throats all at once… let’s try tackling the problem by taking little bites instead.