2010-12-10 / Top Stories

Bloomberg Wants To Make Voting Easier

Mayor Michael R. Bloomberg has announced a set of reforms designed to make voting more convenient and flexible for all New Yorkers and issued a report showing that New York has the most restrictive election policies in the country and decades of declining voter turnout. The proposal calls for four changes to New York State election law, including: creating an early voting period; allowing New Yorkers to fill out their ballots at home and bring to a polling site; modernizing registration process and extending registration deadline from 25 days to 10 days before Election Day; and simplifying the ballot design with plain language instructions. New York is the only state in the union that does not offer any of the following voter access reforms: early voting, no excuse absentee voting, same day registration, online registration or party switch within six months of a primary. The Mayor was joined by State Senator-elect Michael Gianaris; State Assemblymembers Brian Kavanagh, Karim Camara, Michael Benjamin and Jonathan Bing; Councilmember Gale Brewer; former City Council Speaker Peter Vallone, Sr.; Reverend Al Sharpton; Citizens Union Executive Director Dick Dadey; Common Cause New York Executive Director Susan Lerner; NYPIRG Senior Attorney Gene Russianoff; New York State Bar Association President Steven Younger; Deputy Director of the Brennan Center for Justice’s Democracy Program Wendy Weiser; New York City Corporation Counsel Michael A. Cardozo; and New York City Voter Assistance Commission Executive Director Onida Coward Mayers.

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

The report issued by Bloomberg found that New York’s election laws are the most restrictive in the country. New York is among only four states with closed primaries that have not adopted any policies to expand voter access. These include same day registration, online registration, no-excuse absentee voting or early voting. Among these four most restrictive states, only New York requires voters to wait more than a year to vote in a party primary after changing party affiliations.

For the past several decades, New York voter turnout in municipal, state and federal elections has been declining, and is now lagging behind the rest of the country. In the last three state and federal election cycles, New York ranked 47th among states in average voter turnout.

“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,” said Speaker Quinn. “The Council’s Governmental Operations Committee citywide voter survey found that more than 1 in 3 surveyed 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 following proposed reforms 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.

In 2005, Bloomberg created the Election Modernization Task Force to look into voting and election policies. Led by Corporation Counsel Michael A. Cardozo, the Task Force recommended ways to improve the Board of Elections’ operations, productivity and overall efficiency and to modernize the City’s voting machines.

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