End voter suppression in New York

End voter suppression in New York
1- Jackson Avenue School celebrated the grand opening of their “Learning Garden” with a ribbon cutting ceremony attended by students, teachers and administrators on May 21. Photos courtesy of Mineola School District

Republicans in states across the country have in recent years campaigned for legislation to suppress the vote.

The goal: to keep Democrats — especially nonwhite Democrats — from voting and thereby win elections they would otherwise lose.

So what’s New York State’s excuse?

No, New York State has not been part of the national campaign to suppress the vote.

It doesn’t have to. It already suppresses the vote.

In fact, New York State is a model for voter suppression that Republican state legislatures aspire to. 

Take primaries.

Most states hold some form of open primary or caucus that allows independents to participate.

Not New York, where independents outnumber Republicans.

While some states allow independents to join a party when they arrive at the polls, New York requires independents to join 11 months in advance. 

Many Bernie Sanders supporters learned this fact the hard way when they tried to vote for the Vermont senator in his primary bid against Hillary Clinton in 2016. 

It says something that in North Carolina, where election law changes were struck down by the courts for violating the Voting Rights Act, independents are allowed to participate in primary elections.

The North Carolina law also would have reduced early voting from 17 days to 10. This was rightly criticized as undemocratic.

But New York is even worse. It offers no early voting. None.

How does New York get away this?

Federal law says states cannot pass laws that make minority voters worse off. But since New York never offered laws that encouraged voter participation the state’s hostility to voters is grandfathered in.

This is also true with same-day registration. New York requires citizens to register three weeks in advance.

When North Carolina tried to move to the same policy, the courts said it had violated the Voting Rights Act.

Republicans who have cut early voting and eliminated same-day registration in states like North Carolina and Ohio have pointed to New York to justify their moves.

So what is the impact of New York State’s policy?

Great, if you don’t care much for fair elections or the democratic process.

In 2014, based on eligible-voter population data, New York had the second lowest voter turnout rate in the country — 28 percent. North Carolina’s was 41 percent.

Legislation to make it easier for state residents to vote has been approved by Democrats in the state Assembly but has died in the Republican-controlled state Senate, where the leadership prevents it from being brought to the floor for a vote.

This includes legislation that would have established two weeks of early voting and moved the party registration deadline closer to the primary. Gov. Andrew Cuomo has also called for automatic registration through the state Department of Motor Vehicles and other government agencies.

The Republican leaders in the state Senate — and the eight Democrats who have given them control — ought to get out of the way and let there be a vote on the reform proposals.

It’s true that the reforms could cost Republicans control in the state Senate — and the leaders their jobs.

The rest of the state — two U.S. senators, governor, lieutenant governor, comptroller and attorney general — is already in the hands of Democrats.

But perhaps getting good candidates with policies most New York voters support is a better way of gaining power than preventing people from voting.

Just take a look at New York City, the bluest of blue cities.

Before the election of Bill DeBlasio as mayor, city voters had elected Republicans Rudy Giuliani and Michael Bloomberg four straight times before Bloomberg won a third term as an independent. That’s 20 years of voting for someone other than a Democrat. In New York City.

Still, the people who control the state Senate — both Republicans and Democrats —  became leaders under a system that makes New York seem like something out of the old South.

So perhaps they need some encouragement from voters to do the right thing.

People already registered to vote should press state Sen. Elaine Phillips and others in the Senate to support legislation that removes obstacles blocking New Yorkers’ participation in the democratic system.

And, if need be, hold these legislators accountable for the actions of their leaders.

There is actually a precedent for the state Legislature making voting fairer.

In 2012 and 2013, the Legislature voted to end gerrymandering statewide by turning over the redistricting process to an independent commission in 2020. The amendment later became law, when the measure received 57 percent of the vote in a public referendum.

So the Legislature will occasionally do the right  thing. When pressed. Now is the time to press.

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