Editorial: Ballot access, security plan a good start

Cuomo type of plan is needed in wake of fraud threats, low voter turnout
Gov. Andrew Cuomo delivers a State of the State address at the Performing Arts Center at the University at Albany in January.
PHOTOGRAPHER:
Gov. Andrew Cuomo delivers a State of the State address at the Performing Arts Center at the University at Albany in January.

The state Legislature should have no problem with Gov. Andrew Cuomo’s new two-pronged approach to improving elections in New York.

The plan, which Cuomo will unveil in detail next week, seeks to root out fraud and make election advertising more transparent to voters, while improving access to the ballot through early voting and automatic registration.

Who could be against all that, right?

Well, if you’ve lived in New York for any period of time, you know why even common-sense, thoughtful approaches to governance can get railroaded in Albany by politics, history and paralysis.

It used to be that for the very most part, election tampering pretty much wasn’t done. For a country that basically does its elections on the honor system, they’ve been remarkably honorable over time.

But with evidence of Russia’s attempt to influence U.S. voters in the last presidential election through social media, with more states enacting policies designed to discourage or prevent certain populations of people from voting, and from concern that people who are ineligible to vote are finding ways to cast ballots, the time has unfortunately come to put more of our unwritten rules into law.

One element of the governor’s proposal addresses the ads placed on social media by adding paid internet and digital ads to the state’s definition of political communication and subjecting these ads to the same disclosure rules as print and broadcast ads are now.

That means forcing those placing the ads to tell voters who paid for the ads and requiring internet hosts to keep track who places ads, make them available to the public, and to discourage foreign ads.

The proposal also calls for security measures, in conjunction with local election officials, to identify and punish attempts at election fraud.

One part of the plan involves creating an Election Support Center, comprised of various state departments, including police, working year-round to expose fraud and giving local election boards the tools to combat it.

The federal government needs to implement this kind of approach nationwide. But in the absence of that right now, the state needs to step up and protect its own voting process first.

It will cost money to integrate all the efforts and to give communities the means to fight fraud. But in this country, the sanctity of the election system is vital to the fair administration of our democracy. Funding must be found.

Coordinated efforts, well-considered and technologically feasible, are worth the expense.

The governor also, as he did earlier this year, will propose allowing citizens to vote early and to automatically be registered to vote whenever they do business with the state. The goal behind this proposal is to get more citizens to vote by making it easier to register and more convenient to cast their ballots.

New York is near the very bottom of all states in voter participation, in part because it hasn’t supported progressive ideas that other states have adopted for improving turnout. For instance, 37 other states have some form of early voting. New York has none.

One of Cuomo’s proposals would require counties to set up at least one polling place for every 50,000 people 12 days before the general election. Those polling places would be open eight hours on weekdays and five hours on weekends. For those people who can’t find time on Election Day to vote because of work, school, child care obligations or just because they forget to squeeze it in, having the polls open more days and more hours before the election might get those people to the polls.

The problem is that polling places cost money to operate, and counties have rightly balked at picking up the expense of all those extra hours and days.

If the state is going to implement Cuomo’s plan, it’s going to have to support it with money so as not to create yet another unfunded state mandate on local taxpayers.

Also, the longer that ballots hang around, the greater the potential they could be tampered with. So ballot security needs to be part of any early voting scheme.

Cuomo’s also proposing same-day voter registration. But it, too, would have to be backed by a verification process to ensure people are eligible to vote and that they can’t vote in multiple places before the authorities catch up with them. Regardless, some modification of the registration process is needed to make it easier for more people to participate in election.

A major obstacle to improving access to ballots has been Republicans in the state Senate. History shows that when ballot access is improved, more Democrats show up to vote, which is why politically, the governor’s plan faces an uphill battle. That’s why voters need to lobby their Republican senators and Assembly members demanding they expand ballot access.

The governor’s proposals are going to need further examination for legality, practicality and affordability. But given that he’s proposed many of them before, and considering that the governor has given lawmakers enough time before the end of the legislative session in June to consider them and propose alternatives, there’s some reason to be hopeful for progress.

It’s vital that our election system be secured and that it be easily available to the citizens wishing to participate.

These proposals are a healthy starting point, and lawmakers from all political parties should be open to considering them this year.

Categories: Editorial, Opinion

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