Tomorrow is Election Day. City & State has a story asking the question about non-voters in New York. After describing the smattering of races and the variety of unopposed races and snoozers that are in play the description is of another lonely day at the polls. Does it have to be this way? No is certainly the answer.
But what’s surprising is not the lack of voter engagement – it’s that it doesn’t have to be this way. Turnout in other jurisdictions makes clear just how subpar New York’s showing is, and recent trends offer little hope for improvement. Last year Gov. Andrew Cuomo won a second term with the lowest gubernatorial vote total since Franklin Delano Roosevelt in 1930. Only a quarter of New York residents of voting age cast a ballot in the race – higher than Texas but lower than every other state. A similar figure estimating total turnout among eligible voters found New York did slightly better, with a 29 percent turnout, but the state still ranked second to last. In contrast, 58 percent of eligible voters in Maine cast a ballot….
In off-cycle elections like 2015, it gets worse still. Fewer than a quarter of active, registered Democratic voters cast a ballot in the 2013 New York City mayoral primary. When Bill de Blasio advanced as the Democratic nominee, nearly three-quarters of the city’s electorate didn’t vote – neither for him nor for anyone else. In other local races, participation often drops even further. Take the office of Staten Island district attorney, which was recently vacated when Dan Donovan was elected to Congress: The last time it was an open race, in 2003, turnout rose to 20 percent, then dwindled to 12 percent and 11 percent as Donovan easily won re-election. In 2011, a point comparable to 2015 in the four-year election cycle, turnout for some state Supreme Court judgeships in Manhattan, Brooklyn in Queens was around 5 percent….
“It seems that in New York and other states, the approach has been to make it as difficult as possible,” said state Sen. Michael Gianaris, who long has been an advocate of getting more people signed up to vote. “Make registration difficult, make voting difficult, and we get what we deserve when you see how few people are turning out to vote.”
This is the crux of the matter here in New York. Let’s imagine that you move to New York sometime between now and the Democratic primary for the 13th Congressional district June 28, 2016. You will not be able to vote in the primary because you were not registered by last month’s deadline. Who thinks that is a great idea? People in power protecting themselves from voters.