Editorial: Registration initiative just a start

State needs to do a lot more to boost voter turnout

Let’s call it a nudge. A little wakeup call.

A subtle reminder to the state Legislature that it still has failed to pass critical legislation to boost New York’s abysmally low voter turnout by making it easier and more convenient for citizens to vote.

That’s about the best you can say for the executive order signed by Gov. Andrew Cuomo on Monday that requires state agencies and colleges to be more proactive in pushing voter registration.

The governor has in the past proposed a variety of necessary reforms to boost turnout in New York. Among them are early voting to reduce lines and make voting more convenient, same-day voter registration and modernization of records to speed up voting.

Those are all essential to improving turnout in New York and should be his main focus.

Voter registration in New York, oddly, isn’t really a major problem when it comes to voter participation in elections. Getting those registered voters to show up at the polls is.

According to the state Board of Elections, there are 12.37 million registered voters in the state out of an eligible population of 15.6 million. That means about 79.5 percent of those eligible to vote in New York are already registered to vote. That’s not great. But it’s not horrible by comparison. Nationwide, the average is about 67 percent.

By contrast, New York’s turnout in the last presidential election, which featured two very popular and distinct New York-based candidates, was a pathetic 57 percent, ranking us 41st out of 50 states. Voter turnout in local and school races in New York is often far more anemic, sometimes barely above 10 percent.

So while, yes, it’s important for the state to reach out to potential voters, to find out why certain groups like college students aren’t voting in larger numbers, and to aggressively promote voter registration by increasing awareness and the availability of registration forms, it doesn’t do much good if those people stay home on Election Day. 

Rather than this tepid announcement, the governor should have used his platform on a slow news day to lambaste the Legislature for failing to pass election reforms that have become routine in states far less inventive and progressive than New York. He should have singled out the Republicans in the Senate in particular for failing to pass even simple reforms, like making it easier to vote by absentee ballot, expanding deadlines so that members of the military could more easily vote, and making it so voters can change their party affiliations later in the process to encourage greater turnout in political primaries.

Instead we get this milquetoast set of proposals that aren’t nearly enough to boost voter turnout significantly. Even the League of Women Voters wasn’t impressed, saying Monday’s executive order would “do little” to fix the turnout issues.

Rather than pull his punches, the governor needs to turn up the heat on the Legislature to pass real reforms that will actually result in more people going to the polls. 

Categories: Editorial, Opinion

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