In February, Gov. Andrew Cuomo announced that he planned to include $7 million in his executive budget earmarked for early voting across the state. The provision would have allowed voting 12 days in advance of Election Day, but, much to our disappointment, the funding was dropped from the final spending plan.
So, New York will remain among the 13 states that don’t allow for early voting, and our state, which has one of the lowest voter participation rates in the country, will continue to depress national averages. And they are already bad. With a turnout rate of 55.7 percent in the 2016 presidential election, the United States ranked 28th among the 35 nations the Pew Research Center considers highly developed democratic countries.
Among the 37 states that do allow early voting, turnout has increased by 2 to 4 percentage points on average, according to a 2008 study by the Early Voting Information Center at Reed College in Portland, Ore. Given the goal of increasing statewide voter participation, and New York state’s $168 billion budget, $7 million seems worth it.
As The New York Times wrote in an editorial, in a state whose government burns through an average of $320,000 a minute, $7 million equates to roughly 20 minutes’ worth of expenditures.
We can be thankful that at least some of our local representatives have taken up the fight for early voting. Describing the proposed budget bill as “out of touch” and citing the loss of the provision, State Senators Todd Kaminsky and John Brooks, both Democrats, voted no on the spending plan.
In the lead-up to the talks, state Democrats had vigorously pushed for early voting’s inclusion in the budget, and although state Republican leaders have so far not said why the provision was rejected, it’s worth mentioning that measures to increase voter participation typically benefit lower-income and minority voters who work multiple jobs — voters who tend to vote Democrat.
While it’s understandable that state Republicans, who hold a slim majority in the Senate, are worried about what more convenient voting could mean for them, free and fair elections are one of the most precious rights we have. But when only half the population votes, that’s a problem.
Another measure that was also rejected in the final budget negotiations was online voter registration, which would streamline the process and eliminate the need for a trip to the Department of Motor Vehicles. Clearly, more action is needed to make voting easier for working-class citizens. Imagine working two or more jobs while caring for children — and in many cases, not owning a car — and then trying to figure out how to get to a polling station, a trip that must occur within a limited time window. Sound hard? That’s because it is.
While opponents of measures that would make voting more convenient often cite concern about voter fraud, there is virtually no evidence that it is a factor. According to a 2007 study by the Brennan Center for Justice at New York University, researchers pegged the rate of voter fraud in the United States at around .0003 percent. By that metric, as the report states, an American is more likely to be struck by lightning than to be impersonated by someone else at the voting booth.
Even President Trump’s Advisory Commission on Election Integrity, which he formed in the wake of the 2016 election, failed to find any evidence of widespread voter fraud, and was dissolved earlier this year.
In contrast, the evidence that offering more voting options increases participation is overwhelming. In Colorado, voters receive ballots in the mail, and all they have to do is fill them out and send them back in. It’s little wonder that Colorado had among the highest voter-participation rates in 2016, nearly 67 percent. And that figure helps prove that Americans aren’t necessarily apathetic about voting, as many pundits claim. They will cast ballots if the process works for them.
New York should make the process work for its citizens. It’s long past time for the state to update its arcane voting system, and turn it into one that serves all of the people, not just the privileged few. Let’s not let this opportunity pass us by again.