If you didn’t vote in the last election because you couldn’t get to the polls on Election Day, or you didn’t register in time, or they wouldn’t accept your excuse for filing an absentee ballot, or you forgot to re-register at your new address when you moved, then you’ll soon have to find some new excuses.
It’s taken a while, but New York is about to arrive in the 21st century when it comes to making it easier and more convenient for its citizens to participate in elections.
New York’s new Democrat-controlled Legislature moved with unusual swiftness Monday by passing a package of reforms that not only will make it easier for New Yorkers to vote, but also will save taxpayers money on multiple primaries and will sign up the next generation of voters.
We’re all quick to criticize our state lawmakers for dysfunction and inaction. But on this one, you have to give them props for efficiency and effectiveness.
They didn’t let moss grow on this legislation this time, as they have in the past.
New Yorkers longing for easier registration and more convenient voting have been shut out by the state’s adherence to old, outdated practices. But many of those old practices will soon be ancient history.
Among the changes coming this year are early voting, whereby citizens will have the option to vote on multiple days prior to traditional Election Day, including during at least one weekend.
New York would join 37 other states that already have early voting. Early voting will allow more citizens to vote, as well as cut down on long lines at the polling place that many voters experience.
Citizens also will not have to re-register to vote when they move within the state.
In the chaos of moving, many people who relocate often forget to register to vote in their new communities. Under this new legislation, their voter registration will follow them around the state.
Reforms that will require a constitutional amendment —and therefore couldn’t take effect until 2022, after approval by state voters in 2021 — are allowing voters to register to vote as late as Election Day, allowing voters to vote by mail, and expanding the ability of people to file absentee ballots through no-excuse ballots.
The state also plans to combine its primaries to a single date in June to reduce confusion and save taxpayers as much as $25 million a year. Right now, the state unnecessarily holds separate primaries for federal and state/local elections.
The state will close the LLC loophole, which allows big-money donors to avoid traditional campaign contribution limits and to delay or hide the release of their identities.
And kids age 16 and 17 will be able to preregister to vote when they sign up for their driver’s tests.
New York is traditionally near the bottom of the country every year in terms of voter turnout.
Among the factors that contribute to that are widespread apathy, dissatisfaction with the candidate selection and frustration with government in general.
But many people don’t vote simply because it’s inconvenient or because the voting times clash with work and home obligations.
There will be issues to address, especially with more voting days.
The state will have to help offset the extra financial burden counties will bear in hosting elections on multiple days and in maintaining the security of ballots.
And local elections officials will have to start working now to ensure they have enough poll workers available for all those days.
Still, these are minor speed-bumps when one considers the greatly expanded access to the polls that New Yorkers will soon enjoy.
It’s always great to start a season with a win. And this is not only a win for the Legislature and the governor, but a win for all New Yorkers.