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Bessent: On election day, think about ways to raise voter turnout

Merrit Tucker, 3, sits on his mother, Abbey

Merrit Tucker, 3, sits on his mother, Abbey Kerlin's shoulders as she casts her ballot on Election Day at the Park Slope Branch Public Library in Brooklyn. (Nov. 5, 2013) (Credit: Charles Eckert)

Turnout in today's election is expected to be dismal, which is too often the case in New York and the nation.

The world’s greatest democracy should have the world’s highest voter turnout. Sadly, it doesn't. Not even close.

Coming in at 138 out of 172 industrialized nations, the United States falls embarrassingly near the bottom. Only 57.5 percent of those eligible actually voted in the 2012 elections.


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Rep. Steve Israel wants to improve that dismal standing. He’s introduced a bill to abandon the current Tuesday election day and require weekend voting in federal elections. Good idea. With turnout in New York 44th among the 50 states, New York's legislature should make the same change for state and local elections.

It would dramatically reduce the hassle-factor in voting, particularly for people who currently have to squeeze a trip to the polls into a busy workday schedule. And it should increase turnout, always a good thing. In New Zealand, where elections are held on Saturday, recent turnout was 86 percent of eligible voters; In Italy about 92 percent, Israel said.

There are a lot of reasons people don’t bother to vote. Uninspired choices, uncompetitive races, the sense that one vote doesn’t matter and intentional roadblocks such as voter ID requirements.

Extending polling hours from one, mid-week workday to a full weekend — from 10 a.m. the first Saturday in November to 6 p.m. that Sunday is what the Weekend Voting Act calls for — won’t address all those issues. But it would eliminate long waits at crowded polling places. That would be a good start.

There’s no official estimate yet of what weekend voting would cost. Poll workers, security and election officials would have to be paid for the longer hours. But it should be relatively minimal.

Consider it the cost of democracy. 

Tags: voting , turnout , election day , democracy

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