By Gina Martinez
A new report from the Senate Democratic Conference explored potential reasons for low voter turnout in New York and new bills that could help address the problem.
“Why Don’t New Yorkers Vote? A Snapshot Identifying Low Voter Turnout,” was a detailed survey conducted with New Yorkers who did not participate in the 2016 general election despite being eligible to vote. The survey highlighted New York’s poor record on voting participation, ranking 41st in the nation in the 2016 presidential contest.
In Queens 691,209 voters turned up at the polls for the 2016 presidential election, or 62 percent of the 1.11 eligible voters, according to the city Board of Elections 2016 annual report. The percentage was the same for the entire city, where 2.75 million New Yorkers voted out of 4.47 million.
State Sen. Toby Stavisky (D-Flushing), a member of the SDC, announced a legislative package that would help improve accessibility to voting and increase voter participation. She said these new bills will help more New Yorkers get to the polls and have a say in the future of the state.
“New York is a pillar of progressive values and beliefs and should not rank at the bottom of voter participation,” she said. “We need to lead the nation in encouraging citizens to be actively engaged in the democratic process. Empowering New Yorkers to have a more active role in their state government should not be a partisan or controversial issue.”
There were several key findings in the survey: 79 percent of respondents said they would be more likely to vote in an election if early voting was enacted; 76 percent of respondents said they would be more likely to vote if no-excuse absentee voting was enacted; 81 percent of respondents who live in counties with voting hours from 12 p.m. to 9 p.m. on Primary Day said they would be more likely to vote if voting hours were extended to 6 a.m. to 9 p.m.; and 28 percent of respondents said they have missed an election because of work or school obligations.
Stavisky said to address the survey findings and strengthen the democratic process in New York state, she will push a series of bills that would make the voting process easier and more accessible.
The Early Voting Bill would establish an early voting system to permit eligible voters in New York state to vote in person during a designated period prior to any primary, special, or general election day. Stavisky said this bill will also establish an early voting fund to cover the expenses of early voting so that local governments are not unfairly burdened.
The No-Excuse Absentee Voting Bill would amend the state Constitution to allow for any voter to request to vote by mail without declaring a reason.
The Voter Empowerment Act would create a modern voter registration system that would reduce costs for processing voter registrations and maintain complete and accurate voter registration lists. Stavisky said this legislation would reduce the inaccuracy and disenfranchisement caused by human error while also helping to prevent fraud.
Other suggested bills would help teens ages 16 and 17 pre-register to vote, make state primary elections the same day as federal primary elections and increase available materials in Haitian Creole, Bengali, Punjabi, Hindi, and Russian in areas with large numbers of voters who speak those languages.
Reach Gina Martinez by e-mail at gmart