By Nelson Santana
Tuesday, May 9, 2017
On Tuesday, May 2nd—Voter Day—a coalition of electoral reform activists visited Albany to voice their concerns regarding New York’s antiquated electoral system. Charter buses from Manhattan and the Bronx filled with New Yorkers arrived in Albany to deliver an important message: New York needs to become more voter friendly. Running on the campaign, “Vote Better NY,” NYC Votes and partners—including Dominicanos USA (DUSA), League of Women Voters, and Coalition Z—marched to the Capitol and spoke directly to legislators to improve the electoral system and get more New Yorkers to vote.
Activists advocated for The Voter Empowerment Act, Early Voting, New York Votes Act, and “Preclearance.” If passed, these legislations would make it the government’s responsibility to ensure all New Yorkers are registered voters, provide same-day Election Day registration, two weeks of in-person early voting, improved poll worker training, and more voter protection. For detailed explanation on the proposed legislation, please click here to view the “Voter Day 2017” factsheet created by NYC Votes.
NYC Votes is the brainchild of the New York City Campaign Finance Board. The campaign promotes civic engagement through community outreach, voter registration and engagement programs, and educational resources.
Several individuals spoke at the “Voting Day” press conference. Onida Coward Mayers, Director of Voter Assistance at New York City Campaign Finance Board, noted that, “Vote Better New York is a coalition from around the state” that wants “a better voting experience and we come to Albany to partner with legislators and to advocate for what we want to see in our election process.”
When presenting DUSA Executive Director Eddie Cuesta, Coward Mayers stated, “We need to really acknowledge this gentleman, Eddie Cuesta, because he makes sure that he works New York City up and down, making sure that disenfranchised New Yorkers understand their rights and gets them registered.” Since its founding, DUSA has registered close to 150,000 voters. Cuesta stated, “We are here because we have seen the problems that affect our communities, and we are here to support early voting. We know the problem, so we hope we could continue pressuring our state legislators and make sure that New York becomes, as the capital of the World, be number one and not be so antiquated with our voting laws.”
Advocating for early voting, New York State Senator Andrea Stewart-Cousins noted, “We have found that if we push them…if enough of us come out…if enough of us understand that elections matter…that things happen in life, that’s why early voting matters.”
Close to two million voting-age New Yorkers are not registered. Although New York ranks third in population size among the 50 states, voter turnout is one of the lowest. Strong proponents of the Voter Empowerment Act, New York State Senator Michael Gianaris and Assembly Member Brian Kavanagh called for its enactment. According to Senator Gianaris, “There are over two million New Yorkers who are eligible to vote but are not registered to vote…the reason is because we put a lot of hurdles in their path in order to get registered.” Assembly Member Kavanagh echoed the senator, noting, “We have seen a passive effort to keep the laws weak so that people don’t participate in the election.”
Other states have modernized their electoral system to reflect the technological advances of the twenty-first century. New York, however, continues to lag behind. Blair Horner, Executive Director of the New York Public Interest Research Group noted, “Too often in the hallways of Albany, it’s about big money and well-connected lobbyists, and when citizens get involved, it makes a big difference.”
Voter Day 2017 provided New Yorkers with the opportunity to speak directly with the senators and assembly members who represent them. NYC Votes and partners met with individual elected officials and staff in their offices. Among the elected officials at hand were Assembly Member Carmen de la Rosa, Assembly Member Michael Benedetto, and State Senator Jesse Hamilton. If passed, the proposed legislation would allow for a smoother electoral process and greater civic participation.