For most people who actually vote, voting in New York state is pretty easy and convenient.
The problem is that many people in New York don’t see it that way.
In 2016, we ranked 41st in the nation for turnout, a dismal 57 percent – and that was for a presidential race featuring two candidates from New York. In 2014, with a governor’s race and congressional midterms, turnout was 29 percent, good for 49th in the country. In school board elections, we’re even worse than that, if possible, with turnout around 12-15 percent.
You can chalk some of the low turnout to voters being not interested or simply being fed up with politics. But that doesn’t explain it all.
While voting is convenient for some people, our voting system in New York disenfranchises a lot of others.
New York needs to update its election laws to make registration and voting more convenient and more adaptive to changes in modern life.
The Assembly and Senate have each now passed their own election reform bills that each provide a good jumping off point for reform.
Each package, for instance, contains a provision for consolidating the state and federal primary elections to one day. Not only would it eliminate one extra day that voters have to vote, it would save the state $25 million a year.
The Senate version calls for the primary to be held in August, while the Assembly would hold it in June. That’s an easy fix. Take the August one.
One of the reasons voters don’t vote is because they burn out on the process because it takes so long. Shorten the process and you might be able to hold more voters’ attention.
Holding the primary in August would shorten the campaign for voters and candidates, while also giving members of the military time to meet federal deadlines for absentee voting.
While we’re talking about primaries, lawmakers need to get rid of the ridiculously early deadline for changing one’s political party affiliation to be eligible to vote in a primary. Right now, the deadline is six months before the primary. Allow voters to register closer to the election and they’ll be more likely to vote in it.
The Assembly package also would establish online voter registration and streamline the registration process. We can shop and pay bills online, but we can’t register to vote that way?
The Assembly legislation also would eliminate the need to provide a reason for filing an absentee ballot. If people don’t want to drag their butts to the polls, let them download a ballot and mail it in. Why not?
Another provision would allow early voting up to seven days before a general election. While that could be costly and require more election volunteers, it might make it more likely for people to show up if they’re not limited to vote on a single day.
Motivating people to participate in the democratic process starts with making it easier for citizens to register and vote. None of these proposals are outrageous or controversial. Lawmakers should be able to find common ground.
New York’s current voting system works for some, but it clearly doesn’t work for everyone.
A major overhaul is long overdue.