Op-Ed: Four Ways to Fix Voting in New York
Tuesday’s election was all about change. New Yorkers turned out in droves to shift the balance in Congress and in Albany. But across New York, one part of Election Day was the same as it ever was: The process of voting in our state is still awful.
That’s why we urgently need four crucial voting reforms.
As expected, there were avoidable problems at the polls Tuesday. Voters waited hours in long lines in the rain, and wet ballots jammed scanners. Others showed up to polling sites only to be told they weren’t on the rolls. Worse yet, tens of thousands who had tried to register were unable to vote due to New York’s ridiculously early registration deadline
These obstacles are among the reasons New York is at the bottom when it comes to voter participation. In November 2016, New York had the eighth-worst voter turnout rate in the country.
The first way to fix this is to bring early voting and no-excuse absentee balloting to New York. One of the major reasons people don’t vote is because they cannot find the time. Obligations like work and family, or health or transportation issues make it difficult to cast a ballot in person on a particular day.
Though 37 states and D.C. have early voting, New York doesn’t. And while 30 states and D.C. allow no-excuse absentee voting, New Yorkers can only vote absentee if they will be out of their county on Election Day, or are caring for a person who is elderly or has a disability.
There’s no reason that New Yorkers, like most Americans, shouldn’t be able to cast their ballot conveniently.
The second fix is electronic poll books. At polling sites across New York, workers sift slowly through large paper books. Though these books are big, they may be missing significant numbers of voters who are registered but haven’t voted recently.
In this year’s primary, inaccurate poll books caused problems in New York City, and many eligible voters ended up having to file provisional ballots. Unlike paper, electronic poll books are easy to navigate and to update. That would mean shorter lines and more people being able to cast a real ballot in real time, rather than having to cast a provisional one.
Of course electronic poll books need to be made secure from hackers — and they can be.
The third fix we need is automatic voter registration. In November 2016, New York’s registration rate ranked 47 out of the 50 states and D.C. One reason is that registering to vote is cumbersome. Automatic registration flips the script. You are registered to vote automatically when you interact with state agencies — like the DMV, for example — unless you opt out.
Fourth, New York needs to fix its absurdly early voter registration deadline. To vote in an election, New York requires you to register 25 days in advance. There’s no reason a cutoff should be that far out – in fact, 17 states and D.C. offer same-day registration.
Those three weeks before Election Day are a big deal. As in much of the country, elections heat up closer to election day, and they are often decided by tight margins. In 2016, New York’s early deadline meant more than 90,000 ”late” registrants couldn’t vote.
If New York’s lawmakers don’t act to fix the registration deadline, the courts just might. That’s because the New York Civil Liberties Union has just sued the state over the registration deadline for disenfranchising tens of thousands of people in violation of our state constitutional right to vote.
But a new class of lawmakers is headed to Albany, and they shouldn’t need to rely on the courts. Our state representatives can simply honor the process that gave them their seats. They should take up these four reforms and make voting rights a reality for more New Yorkers.
Voting, after all, is the right we exercise to protect all others.
This piece originally appeared as an op-ed in the New York Daily News