Report: Voter Access In New York Really Just Stinks »

By Celeste Katz

Ah, beautiful, proud New York, capital of the world — of finance, of fashion, of really, really lousy voter access.


We may have the best bagels, pizza and skyline, beautiful forests and rivers and lots of history, but when it’s time to hit the ballot box, you might as well be competing on American Gladiators with two broken legs, according to a new report out from Mayor Bloomberg’s office. (Ok, that’s my paraphrase.)

New York is the only state that doesn’t allow early voting, no excuse absentee voting, same day registration, online registration or party switch within six months of a primary.

To fix it (and hopefully bolster declining turnout), the mayor is proposing four changes to state Election Law:

  • Creating an early voting period;
  • Allowing New Yorkers to fill out their ballots at home and bring to a polling site;
  • Modernizing registration process and extending registration deadline from 25 days to 10 days before Election Day; and
  • Simplifying the ballot design with plain language instructions.

Joining Bloomberg to announce the reforms: State Senator-elect Michael Gianaris, State Assembly Members Brian Kavanagh, Karim Camara, Michael Benjamin and Jonathan Bing, Council Member Gale Brewer, Former City Council Speaker Peter Vallone, Sr., Reverend Al Sharpton, Citizens Union Executive Director Dick Dadey, Common Cause New York Executive Director Susan Lerner, NYPIRG Senior Attorney Gene Russianoff, New York State Bar Association President Steven Younger, Deputy Director of the Brennan Center for Justice’s Democracy Program Wendy Weiser, New York City Corporation Counsel Michael A. Cardozo and New York City Voter Assistance Commission Executive Director Onida Coward Mayers.

Read more about proposed reforms here and after the jump.

Voter Access in New York

Proposed voting reforms:

Creation of an early voting period: 35 states currently offer early voting in some form, generally 1-2 weeks before Election Day at a selected number of “super poll sites.” An early voting period would give New Yorkers a much greater degree of flexibility as to where and when they vote.

At-home ballot completion: The newly redesigned paper ballot system can provide a unique opportunity for voters to complete their ballots in the privacy of their homes and then bring them to the polling site for scanning and submission. This will ensure New Yorkers spend more time making informed decisions and less time waiting in line at the poll sites.

Streamlining voter registration: New York State has some of the most cumbersome registration laws in the country. But we can immediately improve this situation by taking three simple steps. First, the law should be changed to allow registration ten days before Election Day, as is permitted by the New York State Constitution, rather than the 25 days permitted now. Second, modernizing the registration process by linking existing state and local databases to the Board of Elections would eliminate duplicative data entry and reduce the time required for processing. Lastly, New York State should allow voters to change their party affiliation, and participate in the primary of their choice, without having to wait over a year for the process to take its course. Such a reform would put New York State back in the mainstream, as 20 out of 25 states that require party affiliation to vote in primaries allow for changes within 30 days of Election Day.

Simplified Ballot Design: Guaranteeing that ballot instructions are readily visible and in plain language will ensure that voters are better able to understand the process. Streamlining the ballot by eliminating unnecessary and uninformative text will make it easier to read.

Additional enhancements: Identifying and acting on additional reforms that may require a constitutional amendment should also be reviewed. For example, the current and ongoing efforts of the legislature to pass an amendment allowing for no-excuse absentee voting would also give voters additional flexibility and options on Election Day.

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