There are plenty of reasons to vote, and those of us in New York who are eligible but decide to take a pass should stop and think about those who are being thwarted as they try to exercise their civic right. It is under threat in many places.
In recent years, polling sites have been closed in various states, making it more difficult for people to cast ballots. See Dodge City, Kansas, whose only polling site for a mostly minority population was moved by the county to an inconvenient site. Voter rolls have been pruned, removing eligible voters. The Supreme Court has struck down key parts of the Voting Rights Act of 1965. And dozens of state laws have made it harder for voters to participate. For instance, North Dakota now requires a current street address to easily vote, which many residents of Indian reservations do not have and didn’t need before.
In Georgia, only the intervention of a federal judge blocked some effects of a new law requiring “exact matches” between voter rolls and other personal information on file with the state. Misplaced hyphen in a last name? Come back in 2020. The Peach State also is under scrutiny because its gubernatorial race is very tight and the Republican candidate, Brian Kemp, is the official who oversees elections in the state.
All this is happening under the shadow of President Donald Trump’s sham voter-fraud commission, which disbanded this year and did not present real evidence of fraud.
America has a long history of making it harder for certain groups to vote, whether through literacy tests or poll taxes. It’s a dirty tradition. These days, the suppression is less blunt, but it’s no less dangerous for democracy. Add to that concerns that foreign agents are interfering with our elections.
New York has been spared direct attempts at voter suppression. But the state’s voting laws are antiquated and help lead to abysmal turnout rates.
Why is in-person voting here limited to a single day, when people have work and family responsibilities? Why can’t the state automatically register voters when they come into contact with a state agency? Why are state and federal primaries held on different days? Why do polls open late upstate for primaries, meaning some voters can’t cast ballots before work?
Those are some of the practices that New York should change. Other reforms: establishing no-excuse absentee balloting and ending cross-endorsements that limit voter choice. New York also should study practices that make votes easier to cast. In Colorado, each voter is mailed a ballot. That gives the voter time to do some research before mailing it back or dropping it off at a designated drop box. Coloradans still can vote in person, too, including a period before Election Day.
Reforms have been floated year after year in Albany, but there is no political will to get them enacted. Encouraging more participation in the process can only lead to a more representative government.
No matter who wins power in Albany on Tuesday, voting reform must be taken up early.
Meanwhile, show your representatives how much the ballot means to you. Vote for all those whose own votes are being suppressed. Find the time. Go vote. — The editorial board