Monday, April 4, 2016

NYC Comptroller Calls for Reforming Voting Laws

New York City Comptroller, Scott M. Stringer, said "New York City voter turnout in the 2014 Midterm Election was 25%, the lowest on record. Same-day registration, early voting, streamlined election administration can boost voter participation and save taxpayer money."

Only 1 in 4 registered New York City voters participated in the 2014 midterm General Election, continuing a trend of declining voter turnout that has resulted from arcane City and State election laws, according to a coalition of elected officials, advocates and community leaders. With just weeks until New York’s Presidential Primary on April 19th, a report from Comptroller Scott M. Stringer, “Barriers to the Ballot,” examines voting data over the last 60 years and presents 16 innovative ideas to increase voter access, boost turnout, and improve how elections are administered.

“As New Yorkers head to the polls to elect our next president, it’s important to remember that voting is not only a fundamental right – it is the most important tool we have to ensure accountability in our democracy,” Comptroller Scott M. Stringer said. “Turnout in recent elections in New York has been abysmal and yet our laws often prevent, rather than encourage, people from participating. We need to make it easier for every New Yorker to register and vote.”

In recent years, New York City’s voting rates in Presidential, midterm/statewide, and Mayoral elections have reached historic lows:

- In the 2008 Presidential election, just 61 percent of registered voters showed up to vote, the lowest ratio in any major American city.

- In 2012, only 58 percent of registered voters cast ballots in the General Election, the lowest rate since 1996 and the second-lowest on record.

- In 2013, only 26 percent of registered New York City voters went to the polls in the General Election, the lowest rate ever recorded, continuing a decades-long slide.

- In the 2014 Gubernatorial and midterm elections, only 25 percent of registered voters in New York City filled out a ballot and New York State’s turnout was ranked 48th out of the 50 states.

The report puts forth 16 ideas on how to reform elections and increase voter participation in our City. The solutions are focused on four areas:

- Voter registration
- Access to the polls
- Election Day operations
- Election administration

In many cases, State legislation already exists to advance these ideas.

“At a time when states across the country are taking steps to disenfranchise voters, New York should lead the fight to ensure equal access to the ballot box,” Comptroller Stringer said. “Everyone deserves to have their voice heard. These reforms will remove barriers to voting and boost turnout in the nation’s largest City.”

Recommendations include:

Voter Registration

- Allowing pre-registration for 16 and 17-year olds, which will become active when they turn 18 (Kavanagh A2529/ Carlucci S857).
- Permitting voters to register on Election Day (i.e. same-day registration), as 11 other states already do (Kavanagh A5891/ Gianaris S2391).
- Expanding automatic voter registration using a variety of State and City databases, including, but not limited to, the Department of Motor Vehicles (Kavanagh A5972/ Gianaris S2538).

Access to the Polls

- Enacting no-excuse absentee voting, which lets any voter request an absentee ballot for any reason (Kavanagh A2644/ Brennan A3874B).
- Ensuring absentee ballots are accessible for all voters – including those with vision impairment (Weprin A2104A/Griffo S5085).
- Permitting early in-person voting for at least seven days prior to Election Day, including on weekends (Kavanagh A8582A/ Stewart-Cousins S3813B).
- Exploring a vote-by-mail system, which has already been adopted in Oregon, Washington, and Colorado (Krueger S2739).
- Requiring the New York State Department of Corrections and Community Supervision to inform formerly incarcerated New Yorkers of the need to re-register to vote (Perry A6491) and giving New Yorkers convicted of felonies the right to vote while on parole (Hassell-Thompson S2023A).

Improving Election Day Operations

- Instructing the City Board of Elections to notify New Yorkers about upcoming elections more than once per year and employ modern methods of communication, including email and text message.
- Improving training, recruitment, and compensation for New York City poll workers.
- Expanding poll inspections to ensure compliance with the Americans with Disabilities Act and surveying voters about their experience at the polls.
- Passing the Voter Friendly Ballot Act, which calls for ballots that are easier to understand (Kavanagh A3389).

Election Administration

- Expanding access for Limited English Proficiency New Yorkers by publishing voting materials in additional languages and ensuring availability of telephonic “Language Line” service at poll sites (Colton A4749/ Golden S1703/ Eugene 0255-2014).
- Instituting Instant Runoff Voting, which allows voters to rank candidates in order of preference, instead of holding costly runoff elections two weeks after primaries (Kavanagh A5571/ Lanza S4586).
- Consolidating Federal and State Primary elections in New York instead of holding two separate primaries in even years, and three primaries in Presidential years.
- Strengthening laws against deceptive practices to prohibit the intentional dissemination of false or misleading information with the intent to keep an eligible voter from casting a ballot (Kavanagh A5841/ Stewart-Cousins S2352).

“Voting is our most fundamental democratic right,” said Public Advocate Letitia James. “With voting rights under attack across the country and low voting rates right here in New York, the time for action is now. All of us must work together to end obstacles to voting and encourage every single New Yorker to exercise their right to vote.”

Supporting these changes are:

- State Senator Michael Gianaris (D-12th District)
- State Senator Jose Peralta (D-13th District))
- State Senator Gustavo Rivera (D-33rd District)
- Assistant Speaker of the Assembly Felix W. Ortiz (D-51th District)
- Assemblyman David I. Weprin (D-51st District), Chair, Assembly Task Force for People with Disabilities,
- Jonathan Brater, Counsel for the Democracy Program at the Brennan Center for Justice
- Steven Choi, Executive Director of the New York Immigration Coalition
- Carolyn DeWitt, Chief Operating Officer of Rock the Vote.
- Christopher Kui, Executive Director of Asian Americans for Equality
- Donna Lieberman, Executive Director of the New York Civil Liberties Union
- Debra Raskin, President of the New York City Bar Association
- Grace Shim, Executive Director of the MinKwon Center for Community Action
- Jo-Ann Yoo, Executive Director of the Asian American Federation
- APA VOICE, Asian Pacific Americans Voting and Organizing to Increase Civic Engagement

CLICK HERE to read the 24 page (PDF) full report.

NYC Wins When Everyone Can Vote! Michael H. Drucker
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