Our state’s record on voting rights is shockingly abysmal, we do not offer early voting, same day registration or a dozen of other progressive measures meant to ensure the franchise for all New Yorkers. When it comes to voter turnout, we are behind not just liberal states such as California, but nearly every state in the union. Low voter turnout always helps incumbents, which is a big reason why our state representatives in Albany have no motivation to fix the problem. Of course, low voter turnout is just one of several advantages our state legislators enjoy. Did you know that our Constitution does not call for term limits for state senators, assemblymen, the state comptroller, the governor, or our attorney general? When you combine the lack of term limits with the endemic level of redistricting and gerrymandering by our state representatives it’s a wonder that anyone in Albany ever loses an election!
There is no reason to believe that the current occupants in our state capitol will take the steps necessary to reform any of the above-mentioned problems. After all, if you enjoyed a system that ensured your job security for decades would you change it? The only answer is a Constitutional Convention which will allow New Yorkers to reform our broken electoral system and protect us from the impulses of an erratic President!
New York state boasts an abysmal voter participation record, one that has actually grown worse. In 2010, the state was ranked 48th out of 50 in voter participation by 2014 it slipped to 49th, according to the Times Union. Only Texas and Indiana had worse turnouts than us! New York must join fellow progressive states such as California and Oregon and adopt the following:
- Early voting (Writing in 2016, Jeffrey Toobin of the New Yorker noted that New York is one of only 13 states that does not have a provision for early voting. This is even more conspicuous given that early voting is quickly becoming the norm across the nation. In 2012, nearly one-third of American voters cast their ballot before election day. According to a report by the Brennan Center for Justice the benefits of early voting include:
- Reduced stress on the voting system on Election Day
- Shorter lines on election day
- Improved poll worker performance
- Early identification and correction of registration errors and voting system glitches.
- Greater access to voting and increased voter satisfaction
People are far too busy to only be able to vote on one day. It is time for New York to join the 37 other states, including the five with the highest voter turnout, and adopt early voting.
- Same day registration (Something as simple as same-day registration can boost voter turnout greatly. According to a report by Demos, states with SDR enjoy turnout rates that are 10-12% higher than the states without it. The policy is not new either! SDR was pioneered in the 1970s by Maine, Minnesota, and Wisconsin. Currently, 15 states, and Washington DC, use SDR.
- Automatic voter registration (A 2016 report from the Brennan Center for Justice, reveals that Oregon’s decision to automatically register eligible voters lead to a 3.9% increase in voter registration. West Virginia has also passed automatic voter registration. There is no reason that New York should trail West Virginia when it comes to the expansion of the franchise!
- No excuse absentee balloting (New Yorkers are busy,but just because we are busy does not mean we should be denied the right to vote! No-excuse absentee balloting is a great way to boost voter participation. New York should join the 27 other states that allow no excuse absentee balloting.
- Parolee voting (Currently, 40,000 New Yorkers cannot vote because they are on parole. The roots of this disenfranchisement can be traced back to a shameful effort in the 1870s to deny African Americans the right to vote. We should join the 38 other states, as well as the District of Columbia, where most ex-felons automatically regain their right to vote upon the the completion of their sentence.
- Student preregistration (The engagement of young people in our democracy is critical to its continued health. Student preregistration is a fantastic way to ensure that young Americans remain engaged with the democratic process. Preregistration allows for eligible 16 and 17 year olds to be automatically registered to vote when they turn 18. In 2008, voters who were preregistered in the state of Florida turned out at a rate 4.7 percent higher than their peers who registered to vote when they turned 18, according to a report by the liberal public policy organization Demos. New York should join the 16 other states, plus Washington D.C., that allow students to register when they turn 16 or 17.
These provisions will provide a vital guard rail against voter suppression. For an example of the cost of doing nothing, one need only examine the accidental purging of 126,000 voters in Brooklyn during last year’s Presidential Democratic primary. A New York Voting Rights Act has languished for a decade in Albany. We cannot afford to wait on our state legislators to protect our sacred franchise, we must call a Constitutional Convention and defend our access to the ballot permanently.In an era where the current occupant of the White House creates “Election Integrity Commissions” designed purely to purge unwanted voters from the rolls the people of New York must take active steps to protect their right to vote.
Redistricting has long been a scourge in New York state politics, with both parties working hard to gerrymander districts so as to protect incumbents.
A 2007 report released by the New York State Bar Association laid out the deals struck between the majority parties in the state Senate and state Assembly. Essentially, both legislative bodies agreed to draw district boundaries that protected their majorities and shielded their members from any real electoral challenge.
Technically a six-member advisory committee, consisting of members selected by the minority and majority leaders of the New York Senate and New York State Assembly, could make recommendations regarding the drawing of districts. The key word here is recommend, the state legislature was free to ignore any suggestions brought by the commission.
The issue became so egregious, that in 2014 Governor Cuomo pushed through a constitutional amendment intended to address the problem of gerrymandering. The amendment calls for the creation of a 10-member commission primarily made up of members appointed by the minority and majority leaders in both legislative chambers. This commission will be the primary body responsible for the 2020 congressional and state redistricting process. The governor praised the legislation boasting that the amendment made “New York…a leader among the growing number of states that have reformed their redistricting process to stop such gerrymandering.” Others, such as Bill Samuels, were less impressed. Samuels noted that, “Cuomo’s Redistricting Constitutional Amendment is neither reform nor historic. It is totally flawed.”
The primary objection to the amendment is that it does not truly empower an independent body to draw districts
As it stands our state legislators, governor, attorney general, and state comptroller have very little to fear from their constituents. In addition to enjoying gerrymandered districts, all of these elected officials face no term limits. The end result is a continuation of the “Three Men in a Room syndrome” wherein the same three men meet in Albany behind closed doors and effectively decide the legislative session with zero outside input. A constitutional amendment must be passed that limits the governor, the attorney general and the state comptroller to two consecutive 4-year terms, and the state senators and assemblymen limited to seven consecutive 2-year terms.
New York can only call a Constitutional Convention every 20 years. We need a method to provide New Yorkers with a method to amend their constitution whenever it is necessary. To that end, citizen initiatives are critical as they allow the people of New York to bypass the lethargic legislators in Albany. Our state should join its progressive sisters California and Massachusetts and create an amendment which will enable citizen initiatives for statutes or constitutional amendments.