During the 2012 election, far too many Americans voters had to stand in long lines for hours in order to cast their ballot. Voters who were stuck waiting were all too frequently lower-income and non-white. The President promised to act, in order to ensure that such a disgraceful situation would never happen again. The President convened a blue-ribbon panel jointly headed by the top lawyers for the Obama and Romney campaigns. Last week, the panel issued its findings. The report, The American Voting Experience: Report and Recommendations of the Presidential Commission on Election Administration, called for – among other proposals – expanded early voting, online registration, and a goal of ensuring that no voter waited on line for more than 30 minutes to cast their ballot. The report was the result of a six-month-long study. The panel held public hearings as well as meetings with experts and election administrators. The report’s findings came as New York is once again debating how to strengthen its democracy. And while most of that debate has been over weak ethics laws and a “pay-to-play” political culture, the state’s obstacles to voting is another big problem.
Public participation in New York’s elections continues its downward trend. New York State had a “voting eligible population” of nearly 13 million in 2012. The state Board of Elections reports that nearly 11 million New Yorkers are considered “actively” registered to vote. That means that roughly 2 million eligible citizens were not actively registered to vote.
In addition, New York State has one of the worst voter turnouts in the nation – it was ranked 47th in the nation in voter turnout in 2012.
Why? The elections system itself just doesn’t work.
New York’s system is based on the two major political parties running the state’s elections. The theory was that with the parties watching over each other’s shoulders, the public’s interests would be protected.