For those who missed the message of the 2016 election, the events that have followed have been loud reinforcement: People are fed up with government, they want change and, increasingly, they want to be part of that change.
For many, that means getting involved in the election process — as voters or as candidates. In New York, though, it’s not as easy as it should be to cast a vote or to get on a ballot. That’s wrong.
New York needs voting reforms now.
There is no shortage of good ideas, many of which are in measures before the State Legislature. While details differ, the principles are consistent and worthy of support.
- Voting hours should be extended to include a few days, perhaps on the weekend before Election Day, so those with work schedules or other issues have the opportunity to cast ballots.
- Absentee ballots should be readily available, and the need to state a reason should be eliminated. “No-excuse” absentee ballots are the standard in many states.
- Those who do business with state agencies should be automatically registered to expand the pool of voters. Local election boards would verify them to vote before the new voters would be put on the rolls.
- Deadlines for registering and changing party enrollment should be moved closer to Election Day, to avoid the 2016 presidential primary fiasco that left too many unable to participate.
- Party primaries should be held on one day. The current format of multiple dates for state, federal and, if necessary, presidential primaries is confusing, depresses turnout and is costly. There were three primaries in the state last year.
- Ballots should be easier to read with larger and clear fonts.
The last two recommendations were supported by a bipartisan committee of all state boards of election.
Reforms shouldn’t stop there. We must have spirited elections offering real choices and that means making it easier for candidates to get on ballots. That means loosening laws that let parties and bosses control access. It means banning cross-endorsements, which let one candidate grab multiple party lines.
There’s blame aplenty. Gov. Andrew M. Cuomo trumpeted in January a package of voting reforms he called his “Democracy Project.” He included them in his proposed budget, then dropped them in negotiations with the legislature with a vague promise to take them up again after the budget was adopted. That’s disappointing.
Senate Majority Leader John Flanagan and his fellow Long Island Republicans, on the other hand, have never shown much appetite for voting reforms. As Flanagan said recently, “We have a procedure that on the whole works very well, but those are conversations we should be having.” So start talking.
If lawmakers refuse to approve changes, and if Cuomo fails to act as either a prod or a battering ram, the re-energized public can get it done on its own — by voting in November for a constitutional convention.
Power to the people from the people would be a powerful message no one would miss.— The editorial board