With New York’s presidential primary just two weeks away — and voter turnout having reached an all-time low during the last election — officials are calling for changes to be made to ensure New Yorkers get out to cast their votes.
City Comptroller Scott Stringer released a report over the weekend analyzing voting data over the last 60 years, while also presenting 16 ideas — drawn up by elected officials, advocates and community leaders — aimed at increasing voter access, encouraging turnout and also improving how elections are managed.
According to Stringer, only one in four registered voters in New York City participated in the 2014 midterm general election.
“As New Yorkers head to the polls to elect our next president, it’s important to remember that voting is not only a fundamental right — it is the most important tool we have to ensure accountability in our democracy,” Stringer said.
Based on the report — titled “Barriers to the Ballot” — the city’s voting rates in presidential, midterm/statewide and mayoral elections have reached historic lows.
During the 2008 presidential election, 61 percent of registered voters voted — reportedly the lowest rate in any major American city — and four years later, during the 2012 election, 58 percent showed up to vote in the general election — the lowest rate since 1996 and second lowest on record.
In 2013, according to the report, only 26 percent of registered voters in the city went to vote during the mayoral general election — the lowest rate ever recorded.
A year later during the 2014 gubernational and midterm elections, 25 percent of registered voters filled out a ballot. During that year, New York state’s turnout was ranked 48th out of all 50 states.
“Turnout in recent elections in New York has been abysmal and yet our laws often prevent, rather than encourage, people from participating,” Stringer said. “We need to make it easier for every New Yorker to register and vote.”
In the report, the city comptroller also presents 16 ideas on how to improve elections and also increase voter participation throughout the city. The improvements center on voter registration, access to the polls, Election Day operations and election administration.
Some of the recommendations for voter registration include allowing preregistration for 16- and 17-year-olds which will then become active when they turn 18, and allowing voters to register on Election Day.
In regards to access to the polls, ideas include ensuring absentee ballots are accessible to all voters — including those with vision impairments — and looking into a vote-by-mail system. For improving operations on Election Day, officials recommended instructing the city Board of Elections to notify New Yorkers about upcoming elections more than once per year using methods such as email and text messages, and passing the Voter Friendly Ballot Act — which calls for ballots that are easier to understand.
For election administration, recommendations included increasing access for limited English proficiency New Yorkers through publishing voting materials in different languages and making sure the “Language Line” telephone service is available at poll sites.
“At a time when states across the country are taking steps to disenfranchise voters, New York should lead the fight to ensure equal access to the ballot box,” Stringer said. “Everyone deserves to have their voice heard. These reforms will remove barriers to voting and boost turnout in the nation’s largest city.”