In order for our government to function with legitimacy, Americans must trust in the accuracy of our elections. The issue of modernizing election administration continues to be a perennial topic here in New York. In our pursuit of a truly inclusive democracy, the lack of access to the ballot that so many of New Yorkers continue to face is unacceptable.
There is much progress to be made and ample opportunity to make tremendous strides to a more accessible elections system in New York including the following recommendations:
- Modernize Voter Registration: Some important steps in modernizing voter registration include making registration portable, electronically registering voters with an Opt-Out system, shortening the deadline for registration to ten days before an election, and allowing the pre-registration of 16 and 17 year-olds. Opt-Out Voter Registration should not be limited to the DMV database. Such a system would clearly exclude many eligible voters without a driver’s license or state ID. For opt-out voter registration to cover more eligible citizens, data from multiple agencies should be used.
- Bring Early Voting to New York State: The State should adopt a two-week period of early voting—including two weekends—with each county providing sufficient notice to the public.
- Switch to Electronic Poll Books: All districts should be able to replace printed poll books with electronic poll books. In addition to making voting easier and more efficient, electronic poll books would facilitate the expansion of early voting and same-day registration. County boards of elections should look to the pilot project in Chautauqua and Onondaga counties for guidance in transitioning to electronic poll books.
- Revise New York’s Laws to Make Ballots More Voter-Friendly: New York State’s ballots are not required to be easily read or understood. Current format requirements often create unclear ballots, and those archaic requirements tend to be designed for used in the outdated, and now replaced, lever voting machines. Poor ballot design and minute, unreadable small typeface size on ballots lead to persistent voter complaints. Ballots should have clear instructions with effectively demarcated races and candidates and contain print large enough for voters to be able to read without magnification.
- Upgrade Poll Workers Recruitment, Training and Websites: The State should implement tactics with the specific intention of recruiting new poll workers. Pursuant to the 2010 law allowing split shifts for poll workers, boards of elections should utilize flexible scheduling in order to employ more workers on election days to maintain high standards in poll worker performance. Additionally, county boards of elections should create and maintain websites for year-round election information.
In doing so, New York will finally be a part of the broader movement to enhance voting access and secure voting rights, which has been successful embraced by states like California, Colorado, Oregon, West Virginia and others.