You know when they lower the speed limit on a road you haven't traveled on in a while, and you complain when you get a ticket for traveling at the higher speed limit — only to find out that the speed limit was changed years ago?
That's how some voters felt Tuesday when they found out the polls on primary day didn't open until noon, instead of at 6 a.m. as they do during the November general election.
Those hours for primaries have actually been the law in New York since 1974, when the youngest voter then would now be 60 years old. Same thing with people showing up to the polls Tuesday and expecting to vote, only to get upset when they were told they couldn't because they weren't enrolled in a political party. It’s been that way practically forever.
Learning the polling hours and whether you're eligible to vote and where you're supposed to vote isn’t that difficult to find out. The voting hours were published in this paper on primary day. They also were posted in legal notices and on local Board of Election websites around the state. Don’t know the hours or your eligibility to vote? Google or call the elections board.
Some might argue that in order to reduce confusion, voting hours for all elections should be 6 a.m.- 9 p.m.
One reason they’re not is that not a lot of people regularly participate in primaries. In the last contested statewide primary in New York, only 19 percent of eligible voters voted. One reporter voting Tuesday on Long Island — one of the few locations in the state where the polls opened at 6 a.m. — said that when he showed up to vote at 8 a.m., he was only the fourth voter of the day. There’s no point of opening the polls early if hardly anyone's going to show up.
Another reason is the cost of putting on an election. Tuesday's presidential primaries will cost New York taxpayers about $25 million. It costs money for staff to prepare voting machines early in the morning, for the time and effort to coordinate volunteers and other staff, and to rent polling places. Why pay rent for all 15 hours for the convenience of a handful of people?
Now onto the elections themselves. People generally consider voting an inconvenience, as evidenced by New York's pathetically low voter turnout rates — annually among the bottom five or 10 states in the country.
Making us vote multiple times a year only invites more apathy. Not only is there the general election in November, there are annual school elections in May, village elections in March, and several special elections interspersed throughout the year for things like new libraries or land purchases or the creation of sewer districts.
Then toss in the political primaries. Usually, there's only one each year. But this year, we have three. In addition to Tuesday’s presidential primary, there are separate statewide primaries for congressional seats on June 28 and a third for state and local races on Sept. 13.
We need to consolidate elections so that people don't become overwhelmed by them or desensitized to them. At least hold all the education-related votes on one day and all the other elections, including referendums, on another.
People might be more apt to pay attention to the details if they were only asked to go to the polls twice a year instead of several times.
So part of the problem is the system and part of it is ourselves. Fortunately, we have in our power to change both.