New report finds NYS lags in voter participation; Mayor calls for reforms

New York is the only state that does not offer early voting, and denies excuse absentee voting, same day registration, online registration or party switch within six months of a primary. According to Mayor Michael Bloomberg, this makes New York’s the most restrictive voting laws in the country.

Mayor Bloomberg issued a report yesterday, finding NY ranked 51st in voter access and 47th in average voter turnout over the last 3 federal election cycles. He believes this is due in large part to a lack of voter reforms, adopted by other states over the last several decades.

“Voter turnout in elections for all levels of government is unacceptably low, and the State’s antiquated election laws are part of the problem,” Mayor Bloomberg said in a statement. “Reforms like early voting and extended registration deadlines will help New Yorkers make their voices heard.”

In a comparative look at state voting policies, North Dakota, Idaho, Wisconsin, Iowa and Wyoming were deemed the most flexible, with New York, Delaware, Kentucky, Pennsylvania and Rhode Island rounding out the top five least flexible states for voters. The analysis found very similar characteristics among the least flexible, but ranked New York last because the law does not allow anyone who switches parties to participate in a primary unless its been more than a year since the switch.

“New York City is part of the greatest democracy in the world. Yet our democracy is only as strong as the election system we have in place to support it,” Speaker Quinn said, adding that a citywide voter survey found that more than 1 in 3 voters had difficulty reading the ballot on General Election Day. “This figure raises a red flag for local elected officials and good government advocates. Together, we must work with the State, to improve voter access and experience at the polls.”

The report’s suggestions include reforms that would increase convenience and flexibility of voting in New York:

  • Creation of an early voting period: 35 states currently offer early voting in some form, generally 1-2 weeks before Election Day at a selected number of “super poll sites.” An early voting period would give New Yorkers a much greater degree of flexibility as to where and when they vote.
  • At-home ballot completion: The newly redesigned paper ballot system can provide a unique opportunity for voters to complete their ballots in the privacy of their homes and then bring them to the polling site for scanning and submission. This will ensure New Yorkers spend more time making informed decisions and less time waiting in line at the poll sites. .
  • Streamlining voter registration: New York State has some of the most cumbersome registration laws in the country. But we can immediately improve this situation by taking three simple steps. First, the law should be changed to allow registration ten days before Election Day, as is permitted by the New York State Constitution, rather than the 25 days permitted now. Second, modernizing the registration process by linking existing state and local databases to the Board of Elections would eliminate duplicative data entry and reduce the time required for processing. Lastly, New York State should allow voters to change their party affiliation, and participate in the primary of their choice, without having to wait over a year for the process to take its course. Such a reform would put New York State back in the mainstream, as 20 out of 25 states that require party affiliation to vote in primaries allow for changes within 30 days of Election Day. .
  • Simplified Ballot Design: Guaranteeing that ballot instructions are readily visible and in plain language will ensure that voters are better able to understand the process. Streamlining the ballot by eliminating unnecessary and uninformative text will make it easier to read. .
  • Additional enhancements: Identifying and acting on additional reforms that may require a constitutional amendment should also be reviewed. For example, the current and ongoing efforts of the legislature to pass an amendment allowing for no-excuse absentee voting would also give voters additional flexibility and options on Election Day. .

For a copy of the report, click here.

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