EDITORIAL: Expand on New Yorkers’ voting opportunities

Early voting and absentee voting have proven very popular among New Yorkers.
Early voting and absentee voting have proven very popular among New Yorkers.

Categories: Editorial, Opinion

Sooooo, it only took a worldwide pandemic and a generation-defining presidential race for New York to make voting more convenient and accessible.

The state with one of the lowest voter turnout rates in the country suddenly has lines of people standing in the rain and snow to vote, a week before an election.

Who knew so many of those apathetic, selfish, non-voting New Yorkers were actually willing to participate in the democracy if given the chance?

The pandemic, not any great inertia by the state Legislature, finally forced New York to let more of its citizens vote through the safety and convenience of the absentee ballot this year.

Several states have been letting their voters vote by mail for years, with no problems related to fraud or error.

And New York has been letting members of the military, college students and traveling business people vote by mail for years, but not everyone else.

Yet rather than approve no-excuse absentee voting years ago, the state only was able to expand absentee voting by granting a one-time covid exemption for people who feared getting the disease.

New Yorkers clearly welcome these new methods of voting, as demonstrated by the massive enthusiasm for both.

If you think it was just the presidential race that got citizens to vote, think again.

School elections this year were conducted exclusively by mail due to covid.

The result: The usually pathetic turnout for school elections more than tripled to 1.6 million voters. That’s over 1 million more New York taxpayers who took the opportunity to have a say in their children’s education and in their taxation levels than just one year before.

It’s time for lawmakers to codify these changes and make these voting methods go smoother.

It will take an amendment to the state constitution to authorize no-excuse absentee voting statewide. While lawmakers go through the two-year approval process, the governor needs to extend the covid exemption until voters approve the measure in a year or two.

To enhance absentee voting, the state needs to let voters get an earlier start on when they can request a ballot, and it needs to devote more money to setting up more secure ballot drop boxes around the state so residents don’t have to rely on the post office to deliver their ballots.

In its second year, early voting has proven to be very popular.

But long lines due to limited hours might discourage voters from doing it again in a non-presidential year.

The state needs to ensure that local Boards of Election have enough money to hire staff to work longer hours and to set up more locations for early voting.

This should cut down on the lines and entice voters to continue to vote this way.

There are other ways the state could improve voter access, including same-day registration.

But just improving upon these two very popular voting methods would go a long way to making democracy more democratic in New York.

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