Empower Voters by Ending New York’s Voter Suppression Laws

Our democracy should be a forum where every New Yorker has an equal say and is encouraged to make their voice heard, but right now too many New Yorkers are silenced by our state’s restrictive voting laws.

During the highly contested 2016 general election, New York came in 41st in voter turnout. In the 2016 Democratic primaries, New York came in second to last in participation with only Louisiana beating us in turnout. New York’s antiquated voting laws make our state one of the least democratic states in the country.

It’s time to end voter suppression in New York State and our Democratic leadership needs to lead the charge. The women, people of color, young people and low-income New Yorkers who make up the base of the Democratic Party are the most disenfranchised under our current system. We should be making it easier to vote, not harder — by introducing simple, critical measures that are being enacted in many states across the country including early voting, automatic voter registration, and changing the draconian deadlines on party registration.

We must:

Immediately enact and implement early voting in New York, like 37 other states currently do. Early voting would allow many working New Yorkers to cast their ballot when it’s convenient for them. Between the commute, dropping the kids off at school and getting groceries, if you’re a working parent who works an eight-hour shift on Election Day, it’s going to be difficult to squeeze in the time to show up to your polling location. No one should have to choose between their job and casting their vote. With early voting, eligible New Yorkers would be allowed to vote on a day of their choosing during the lead-up to Election Day.

Early voting must be an available option to voters at least two full weekends prior to Election Day and offer adequate resources for all of our County Boards of Elections to implement this practice so every New Yorker, regardless of their work schedules, or their ability, can cast their ballot.

Immediately enact automatic voter registration. Automatic voter registration would help increase voter turnout. In the 12 states that have already passed it, automatic registration works by transferring the responsibility of registration from the individual to the government. And with a housing crisis in full effect in New York, it’s critical that when a person or a family moves, their voter registration is automatically updated. We must also include pre-registration of our 16 and 17 year olds.

As President Donald Trump and Attorney General Jeff Sessions continue their attacks on voting rights across the country, we in New York need to be doing everything we can to make it easier for people to vote and take control of our democracy. Making voting complicated and onerous for working people, as it now is in New York, simply hands over more power to Republicans and the big-money donors they serve.

Pass a constitutional amendment to enact same day voter registration ensuring all new voters can fully participate in our elections. Same day registration increases voter turnout and eliminates arbitrary deadlines that lock voters out as soon as campaigns begin to heat up and voters get more interested in participating. We can make participation easier for voters who learn about a campaign in its final months and weeks.

Move party registration deadlines to a date closer to Election Day. No state in the country restricts switching political parties more than New York. For the upcoming September 13 state primary, the deadline to change party registration was a whopping 11 months prior on October 13, 2017 — locking out 3.6 million registered unaffiliated voters in New York.

Make it the law of the land that all New Yorkers currently on parole or paroled in the future are automatically allowed to vote without the Governor needing to intervene. Advocates and those directly impacted by the criminal justice system have fought for years to change the law to re-enfranchise New Yorkers on parole. The current laws are deeply rooted in Jim Crow era policies, and attempts to change them have been blocked for years in the New York State Senate. Although the executive order enacted earlier this year is an important first step, there should be no multi-step process and sign off by a governor in order to restore voting rights for people on parole. The restoration of voting rights should be automatic upon release.

Consolidating federal and state primary elections. New York is the only state with two different primary election dates – one for state elections and one for federal elections. Holding federal and state primary elections months apart is a deliberate strategy to protect political machines and incumbents. Voters are routinely confused about when elections are being held. We must make the process simpler by holding primary elections on the same date.

Ensure that our Board of Elections have the resources they need to fully implement accessible voting sites in every corner of the state. Despite the laws passed to ensure that voters with disabilities can vote just like their neighbors, currently 1 in 6 voters have a disability but only 1 in 4 polling places are accessible to them. Thirty percent of voters with disabilities report having difficulty voting because their polling place is not physically accessible; the paper ballot posted at the polling site is in tiny print; or there are no American Sign Language interpreters; and polling site workers are not trained to assist voters with disabilities as required by law.

When voters who are Blind go to the New York State Board of Elections website, they are confronted with a website that is not fully accessible. The State Board of Elections must comply with the Americans with Disabilities Act and assist in bringing local Boards of Elections into compliance with the law. We must ensure that our Board of Elections have the resources they need to give everyone access to vote. We also must ensure that language access is provided in accordance with the Voting Rights Act.

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