Last weekend, New York elected officials once again failed to include common-sense voting reform in the state budget. The right to vote our most fundamental right, yet New York voters face significant barriers to exercising that right. Every year New York falls further behind as states across the nation enact comprehensive voting reform — including early voting, automatic voter registration, same-day voter registration, and vote by mail. New York has one of the lowest voter participation rates in the country, and New York election administrators have unlawfully purged close to 200,000 voters in recent years. And year after year, despite calls from voters and groups from all over the state, Democratic and Republican politicians in New York fail to take any corrective action.
This year it seemed that the time had come for Albany to take a first step toward modernizing our voting system and pass early voting. This change would have afforded New Yorkers the ability to vote a few days or weeks prior to an election without an excuse or signed statement – something that voters in 37 other states already have the right to do. Early voting had bipartisan support and was popular among New Yorkers regardless of political affiliation or area. It was a way for politicians to show the citizens of New York that their support for democracy was not just lip service. Early voting was included – with funding – in the budgets of Governor Cuomo, the NYS Assembly and the NYS Senate Independent Democratic Conference (the Senate budget did not include any electoral reform provisions). Yet early voting was abandoned by the Governor and leaders of the Assembly, IDC and Senate behind closed doors in the final stages of negotiation.
Early voting could have been the first of many desperately needed reforms to modernize New York’s antiquated voting system. The Democratic National Party has made voting rights its cornerstone issue. Yet in a state that is under two-thirds Democratic control—a Democratic Governor, Democratic Assembly, and Senate with nearly half its seats held by Democrats—Albany could not manage to pass a basic measure to assure New Yorkers reasonable access to democracy.
Why are our elected officials denying us necessary improvements that would provide New Yorkers reasonable access to our fundamental right to vote?
This lack of leadership and betrayal of the needs and rights of voters demonstrates our electeds’ prioritization of incumbency over democracy, and fear of a robust electorate.
Why would our legislators ignore this most precious aspect of citizenship? Because they see the voices of their constituency as threats to their power, influence, and paychecks. This is a sad calculation that we are no longer willing to accept. What is most evident from Albany’s failure to enact early voting, a basic and popular reform, is that our politicians do not work for us, the ones they were elected to protect and defend.
Enough is enough.
Common-sense reforms that have swept our nation, from Washington to Maryland and Oregon to (most recently) New Jersey, must be brought to New York. We demand comprehensive voting reform: early voting, automatic and election-day voter registration, restoration of voting rights for eligible citizens on parole, electronic poll books, pre-registration for eligible 16 year olds, and flexibility to change party affiliation. And we will not wait for our elected officials’ priorities to catch up with the 21st century. We will continue to push for these reforms, educate our populace, meet with our electeds, and work to protect and expand voting rights in New York State.
Our legislators will continue to be in session until June, but if history is our guide, this issue will be pushed aside as the lack of transparency and backroom dealing that Albany is known for masks the true allegiances of our elected officials.
Yet we know that we are closer than we have ever come before to election reform in New York. Therefore, we, the Brooklyn Voters Alliance will continue to fight for access to this most fundamental right because we owe it to our families, friends, neighbors, fellow New Yorkers, and ourselves.
We hope will you will join us.
The Brooklyn Voters Alliance