New York City tends to have a pretty low voter turnout, but now Mayor Bill de Blasio is hoping to get more people to vote in New York City by bringing voter registration forms right to those who are incarcerated in New York jails.
The mayor announced on Tuesday that for the first time ever, officials are launching a voter registration and information campaign for those who are incarcerated so that they can exercise their right to vote in New York City.
“Voting access must be expanded and protected in our city. That applies to everyone, including people in custody,” de Blasio said in a statement. “This initiative will help more incarcerated New Yorkers participate in our democracy and have their voices heard.”
This effort to help incarcerated individuals register to vote in New York City is in partnership with the Department of Correction, the Legal Aid Society and the Campaign Finance Board.
City officials will handle the direct pick-up and delivery of voter registration forms and absentee ballots to these incarcerated New Yorkers, bypassing the jail mailing system, officials said, in order to ensure the timely delivery of paperwork.
Before this initiative, voter registration forms and absentee ballots were processed with other outgoing mail in jails. This mail is subject to security procedures, per the city, that may have “inadvertently caused missed deadlines.”
But now, when an incarcerated individual fills out their forms to vote in New York City, they will submit them directly to staff who ensure that the forms are delivered to the Board of Elections quickly.
There are currently many incarcerated individuals in city jails who are eligible to vote, officials said. However, you cannot vote in New York City if you are in prison for a felony charge.
“Voting is a fundamental right of all Americans, as is access to it,” said Council Member Keith Powers, chair of the Committee on Criminal Justice, in a statement. “Making it easier for those in custody of our city jails to vote – many of whom have not been convicted – shows that every voice counts, because they do.”
Vote in New York City: How New York Lags Behind
This initiative is part of a larger effort by de Blasio to make it easier to vote in New York City for all residents. Called DemocracyNYC, that plan has already helped 10,000 students register to vote and aims to “take big money out of politics,” increase the cybersecurity of NYC elections and modernize New York’s archaic voting laws that harm participation.
“New York State lags behind the rest of the country when it comes to voting,” the DemocracyNYC website reads. “The time has come for us to lead.”
In 2017, voter turnout among all residents eligible to vote in New York City was just 21.5 percent, according to an April 2018 report by the New York City Campaign Finance Board.
That low participation is even as more New Yorkers, especially younger residents, are registering to vote in New York City. In 2017, over half of newly registered voters were under the age of 30, and yet for that year’s mayoral election, newly registered voters between 18 and 29 years old showed up to the polls at a rate of just over 13 percent.
New York state overall ranks low in terms of voter turnout, as well. For the November 2016 election, New York state had the eighth-worst voter turnout for the entire nation, according to Politifact.
“With DemocracyNYC, we’re ensuring that every New Yorker exercises their right to have their voices heard,” said Deputy Mayor J. Phillip Thompson in a statement. “Incarcerated individuals have that right as well, and we’re working to get them the information they need to vote and become active participants in our democracy.”