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New York Times Editorial Calls for Senate to Return to Albany to Pass Assembly's Election Reform Bills: 'Why Make It So Hard to Vote, New York?'

New York Times

The Opinion Pages | EDITORIAL

July 29, 2016

Why Make It So Hard to Vote, New York?

Voters in Brownsville, Brooklyn. Credit Michael Nagle for The New York Times

By the Editorial Board

In the last few years, many states have tried to make it easier for people to vote. New York is not one of them.

As a result, millions of New Yorkers fail to make it to the polls on Election Day. In 2014, barely more than one in four eligible voters actually voted — the fourth-lowest rate in the country. Voters did a little better in this year’s presidential primary, but the numbers were still abysmal.

Here are some of the ways New York’s lawmakers make it harder than necessary to cast a ballot. In New York, there is no early voting in person — elections are held on one workday, usually a Tuesday, and that’s it. Absentee ballots are a pain — voters have to claim they will be out of town or unable to appear “because of illness or physical disability.”

The boards that run elections have barely acknowledged the arrival of the computer, let alone the internet. Anyone who votes in New York City, for example, must first sign a large paper ledger that looks like something from the Smithsonian archives. Attempts to move to computerized voting lists — like other efforts to modernize the system — have too often stalled in Albany because incumbents want to preserve the system that got them elected.

The United States Justice Department was forced to sue New York in 2006 for having the worst record in the nation when it came to complying with the Help America Vote Act, the law passed after the disastrous voting machine problems in Florida in 2000. After much hand-wringing and finger-pointing by state leaders, New York’s voters finally got updated machines nearly a decade after that debacle.

It is time for New York lawmakers to take the next steps to make voting more convenient. The Assembly has already passed a package of basic voting reforms that make sense.

The Senate, which could gavel itself into session at any time, should make an extra effort to meet as soon as possible and quickly enact these crucial bills.

Here’s what the Senate could do:

  • Offer absentee ballots without demanding an excuse from the voter. Alaska, Florida, Nevada, New Jersey and 23 other states allow voters to get a ballot ahead of time and return it, usually by mail. (It is important for senators to approve this bill this year because it requires an amendment to the State Constitution. That means it must be approved this year and then again next year by a new Legislature, then by state voters.)
  • Allow voters to cast their ballots as early as eight days before Election Day, including during evenings or weekends. Thirty-seven states and the District of Columbia have some form of early voting. This change would make it far easier for more people to vote.
  • Make it easier to register to vote by computer or smartphone.
  • Redesign ballots to make them easier to read.

Though some Republican-controlled states have enacted laws to make voting harder, many states — even some with Republican leadership — have done right by voters. If Republicans in the New York State Senate don’t do their part now, they may get the message when frustrated voters make it to the polls.

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