If people are too busy or distracted or uninterested to vote even once a year, then how are you supposed to get them to the polls three, four, five or six times a year?
Given the absurdly low voter turnout at school board elections, village elections, political primary elections, special elections, referendums and the general election, the answer is clear: You don’t.
The state can implement all kinds of changes to get people to participate in the democracy — extended voting to several days, weekend voting, same-day voter registration, non-excuse absentee voting, and on and on.
But that won’t work if New Yorkers are continually being asked to vote again and again.
It’s time New York restored some sanity to the voting process by narrowing down the number of times voters are called to vote each year.
Already, every state resident is asked to vote at least twice: During the school board elections in May and the general election in November. But those are just the basics. The people who live in the state’s 546 villages have their own municipal elections in March.
People who belong to political parties are being asked to drag themselves to the polls three times year — once in April for the state’s presidential primary, again in June for the state’s congressional seats, and a third time in September for state and local races.
Add to those all the special elections held in school districts and towns throughout the state each year. The Scotia-Glenville school board had a special election on Tuesday to vote on a proposed land purchase. In December, Mechanicville school district residents were called to the polls to vote on capital projects. Residents living around Ballston Lake voted in October on a sewer plan, three weeks before the general election. A vote on a new library for Galway was held in late September.
How are people supposed to keep track of all the elections and be asked over and over again to take time out of their busy schedules to vote? They have difficulty enough showing up for general elections. Why do we expect them to do it for so many others?
For those who actually do want to vote, the plethora of elections actually punishes them. For instance, how many senior citizens on fixed incomes missed Scotia-Glenville’s mid-February referendum or Mechanicville’s pre-Christmas vote because they were in Florida for the winter?
It’s not just that all these elections are inconvenient for voters, they’re also costly, and they present a challenge for the people who host the elections. Each time a community or school district stages a vote, they have to advertise it, open buildings, set up voting booths, organize election staff and count ballots. In some cases, this can add up to thousands of dollars that municipalities and school districts might put to better use for the taxpayers.
Just merging the federal and state/local political primaries this year would have saved taxpayers $25 million. Rather than combine them, though, the parties opted to go to the expense and trouble of holding two separate primaries three months apart. That’s absurd.
Why couldn’t school referendums all be held on the same day that people go to the polls to vote on school budgets in May? Why can’t village elections and local referendums be held on Election Day in November, when people are accustomed to going to the polls? For that matter, why can’t school votes be held in November?
We understand that different government entities have different fiscal years and different deadlines for securing funding for special projects, and that terms of office for board members would have to be adjusted. This is a case for getting them all on the same schedule.
There is an argument to be made that if you put too much on the voters’ plate at once, it will discourage people from voting altogether. But random multiple voting days throughout the year only has the effect of alienating, confusing and discouraging voters, and driving down turnout at all elections.
It’s out of control. New York needs to consolidate its elections so that voters can focus their attention and time to a manageable few dates.