Last week’s presidential primary exposed some potential serious Board of Elections problems in the management of voter lists and the conducting of the election. However, the real electoral problem in New York State goes far deeper. New York has some of the worst laws in the country and an overall anti-voter attitude. This combination has resulted in low voter participation. In fact, New York has the fourth worst turnout in the country.
A prime example of the problem is New York State Legislature’s failure to consolidate this year’s primaries on one date or, at most, two dates. Whereas this week Maryland and Pennsylvania voted on their presidential, federal, legislative and local contests on one day, New York will have three separate primaries—last week for president, in June for Congress and in September for the State Legislature. Having three primaries lowers voter participation, wastes more than $50 million and contributes to overall voting dysfunction.
The failure of state senators to consolidate the federal and state primaries is for their own political benefit and so that they can run for two offices simultaneously, which not only wastes millions of dollars but also is an insult to all voters. It’s time for politicians to realize elections shouldn’t be designed to make it easier for themselves, but rather easier for voters to participate.
State leaders must put aside their self-serving political agendas, recognize today’s lifestyle realities and make it easier for every citizen to vote. Although many here are quick and correct to blast other states passing voter ID laws that make it more difficult for voters to cast a ballot, not enough is being said or done about New York’s laws that suppress our vote and disproportionately hurt minority voters. We immediately need to enact voter friendly policies and other reforms that encourage voter participation.
More specifically, New York State should do the following:
Establish early voting and no-excuse absentee voting in New York State. Two-thirds of the states now offer some sort of early voting in which voters may visit an official site and cast a vote in person days or weeks before Election Day without offering an excuse for not being able to vote on the officially designated day.
Consolidate the state and federal primary to the third week in June. Having separate primaries is of no benefit to voters, increases confusion, decreases voting and wastes millions of dollars.
Lower signature requirements and utilize less burdensome witness signature requirements to encourage greater competition and discourage nuisance legal challenges. Although there should be some requirement to get on the ballot, it shouldn’t be a legal labyrinth that only benefits election lawyers and political machines.
Allow Election Day voter registration. Fifteen states now have this reform, which increases voter turnout and eliminates arbitrary deadlines that cut off registration just when voters are engaged.
Replace existing election governance boards with professional administration and eliminate the current system of bipartisan duplication.
New York State should be the capital of democracy. And we can be, if Albany gets beyond its old-time politics and shows a real commitment to making our system the best in the country by increasing the opportunity for all New Yorkers to vote and making our voting the easiest, friendliest and most accountable anywhere.