Finally Let New York Vote: End restrictive practices that effectively disenfranchise millions, beginning with early voting

In the midterm election, 38 million Americans in 37 states voted early. None of them were in New York. Instead, eager New Yorkers turned out in record numbers only to wait in long lines, in the rain, sometimes for hours at a time.

Dysfunction ruled the day with widespread reports of broken scanners and technicians racing across the five boroughs to fix them, sometimes visiting the same poll site twice before 2 p.m. Amazingly, the executive director of the city’s Board of Elections blamed the weather for what amounted to a massive paper jam that his agency was ill-equipped to address. Some people stuck it out. Others had to go to work or drop their kids off at child care.

Instead of trying to cram millions of votes into a 15-hour window on a single day, New York can end the madness by passing early voting now, together with a whole package of common-sense reforms.

Early voting would open up certain poll sites up to two weeks before Election Day, allowing parents, students, seniors, working people and the differently-abled to cast their ballots on their own schedule without missing other commitments. It’s a non-partisan idea that’s uniformly popular in red states and blue states, from Arizona to Illinois. In fact, the U.S. Elections Project anticipates that early vote totals could make up more than a third of the total votes cast, as the number of people voting early increases each year.

It’s also popular with the people responsible for running elections. When there’s a technical problem at the polls, administrators have enough time to fix it. They can iron out issues as they arise without jeopardizing anyone’s rights or overwhelming the existing infrastructure.

A paper jam doesn’t have to completely derail democracy.

Seven of the 10 most populous states have implemented early voting. In California, people began voting in mid-October. Texans and Floridians joined them in late October. Even small states have adopted early voting that improves the voter experience. In Wyoming, a state with fewer than 300,000 voters, people started voting in late September.

We don’t just need early voting, though; we need to make it easier for New Yorkers to register to vote in the first place. There are a few ways to do that.

First, we can allow 16- and 17-year-olds to pre-register to vote, just like they already can in 13 states plus the District of Columbia. Pre-registration increases the likelihood of voter participation among young adults, and helps create lifelong voters.

Second, it needs to be easier to change parties. Forty-nine states have open primaries or let voters change their party close to Election Day. New York has the most restrictive deadline in the country. To participate in the 2018 primary, voters had to register a change more than six months earlier in 2017, before candidates had even solidified.

Third, New York has to explore ways to implement automatic voter registration, just as they have in 14 other states and D.C. Some states allow eligible voters to automatically register to vote through the Department of Motor Vehicles, so that when a person gets a license or an ID, the state can easily transfer their voter information to the agency that handles elections.

Bad weather, bad laws and bad Board of Elections choices — not New Yorkers exercising their fundamental democratic right — are to blame for Tuesday’s mess. It’s our legislative leaders in Albany who’ve consistently favored a less efficient system that prioritizes their own interests over the people they’re supposed to represent. As a result, the supposedly most progressive state in the nation is an embarrassment on Election Day.

No more excuses. It’s time to let New York vote.

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