New York voting reform is overdue

Gov. Andrew Cuomo likes to say that New York is the most progressive state in the country. But when it comes to rules and regulations regarding voting, the state’s status can best be called archaic.

There is a primary for congressional candidates on June 26, then, in September there is another primary for state government candidates. Among the 50 states, New York is dead last when it comes to allowing voters flexibility in changing registration in order to participate in a given party’s primary in state races. So for the primary race that takes place in September 2018, the deadline to register to vote in the primary was in October 13, 2017. That means that the 3.6 million unaffiliated registered voters in the state are prevented from participating in the state primary process.

So, at a time when many states have adopted same-day registration, to participate in the New York primary election, voters must register a full 11 months before the election. This is clearly a burden and a hurdle for voters that should be changed.

Another thing the state should consider is adopting same-day registration (SDR) not only for primaries but for Election Day itself. There are now 15 states that offer this convenience to their voters, and the evidence is that it is effective in increasing voter participation. According to the National Conference of State Legislatures,


“Immediately following the implementation of SDR, states usually see a boost in voter numbers. Same day registration states also tend to outperform other states in terms of turnout percentages. Many states that have implemented SDR have historically produced higher voter numbers, making changes hard to gauge. Multiple studies place the effect between an increase of 3% and 7%, with an average of 5%. Finally, studies reveal no conclusive evidence of whether SDR shapes partisan outcomes or whether certain populations are more likely to benefit.”

Another voting policy that state lawmakers should consider is automatic voter registration (AVR). This has so far been adopted in 12 states and the District of Columbia, and is gaining steam nationwide. In 2018 so far, 20 states have introduced legislation to move to AVR and eight more are still considering legislation introduced in earlier years.

Again the available evidence suggests that AVR increases voter participation. According to a 2016 report from the Brennan Center for Justice (www.brennancen ers-torrid-pace) after Oregon adopted AVR in 2016, “AVR is nearly quadrupling the rate of new registrations at the DMV, and has already increased the registration rate by nearly 10% points, accounting for population growth.”

The overall impact: “This policy boosts registration rates, cleans up the rolls, makes voting more convenient, and reduces the potential for voter fraud, all while lowering costs.”

The state should also follow the lead of 37 other states and offer early voting, of which voters are increasingly taking advantage where it is available. In 2000, only 16% of votes cast were done so by early voting, but by the 2016 election, the number of early votes cast rose to nearly 40% of the total—and of course, New York voters should have the same opportunity as most of the rest of the county.

To be sure, Gov. Andrew Cuomo and the state Assembly seem to want to make it easier for residents to vote. In February, Cuomo proposed funding for early voting registration, assigning about $7 million to pay for opening voting locations early across the state. In April, the Assembly passed legislation that would have authorized early voting for seven days in advance of the election. The legislation also would have updated the registration process and allowed for online registration.

But so far, the Senate has blocked such measures. And with the Senate now deadlocked with an equal number of votes split between Republicans and Democrats, it is accomplishing very little these days as the end of the session nears. One of the recent battles that held things up, for instance, was about whether or not the U.S. Roe v. Wade decision legalizing abortion should be codified into state law.

The Senate did manage to pass a bill in recent days to try to prevent cruelty to animals and to prevent cyber bullying. It seems very possible, however, that it will not take up voting reforms this year, and New York will continue to be one of the least voter-friendly states in the country for another year.


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