Primary Day In New York Highlights A Problematic Electoral System

True or false: New York has one of the most progressive voting systems in the nation.

Yes, New York’s governor, Andrew Cuomo, is a Democrat.

Yes, New York is a solidly “blue state,” like California, Vermont, and Massachusetts.

But that statement is actually false.

As primaries all over the country ahead of November mid-term elections report record turnout and our attention is on the “blue wave” liberals and progressives hope will result in Democrats wresting Congress from GOP control, we find that even in progressive bastions like New York, voter suppression is still very much a problem.

Last week’s state-wide primary for governor, state legislators, and myriad local offices, found scores of voters in the unenviable position of casting provisional ballots because their names mysteriously disappeared from their typical polling locations.

According to a recent Slate piece:

“New York suppresses the franchise through inertia and bureaucratic incompetence that state legislators in both parties (but mostly Republicans) refuse to fix. The system is designed to maximize errors and confusion, which often collide on Election Day to frustrate qualified voters.”

As HuffPost’s Sam Levine explains, the problem lies in an 1894 system establishing that each county board of elections and the state board of elections has four commissioners, two Democrats and two Republicans, selected by political fealty, not competence.

Election Commissioners’ reluctance to update this stems, ironically, from fears that changes might appear partisan.

Another problem plaguing New York’s voting process is technological.

Federal law requires the state maintain a registered voters’ electronic database. Other states maintain electronic poll books able to be transmitted to poll workers instantly.

New York election officials, however, send voter information to a printer that produces a book in paper form officials must then search manually.

Susan Lerner, executive director of Common Cause New York, an expert on New York voting laws, states under this system, voter information may be “lost in translation” en route from “electronic database to a paper-based book.”

A third issue concerns mass purges.

In 2016, Common Cause New York sued the state board of elections for unlawfully purging approximately 120,000 Brooklyn voters, many of whom were Hispanic.

Upon further investigation, Common Cause discovered since 2014, the board had illegally purged 200,000 voters, forcing the board to admit it violated the law and agree to implement measures to prevent repeating the 2016 primary.

So why doesn’t the state legislature just pass some laws requiring automatic voter registration?

Couldn’t it enact same-day registration and portable registration, ensuring voters that move within the state remain registered? What about early voting like most states practice?

Because the majority-Republican legislature refuses to pass a series of reforms, the New York Votes Act.

Although Gov. Cuomo launched online voter registration, restored voting rights to 35,000 to 40,000 parolees, and states he supports more reforms, he has done little to fight for them.

So what should voters do if they are turned away?

First, don’t just walk away. Ask the poll worker to check again. Humans make mistakes, and it’s possible voters’ names are inadvertently overlooked in the books.

Next, fill out an “affidavit “or “provisional” ballot. If election officials later confirm a voter what erroneously removed from the rolls, his or her provisional ballot can be counted. If it is determined the voter was not properly registered, the provisional ballot can serve as his or her registration form in time for the next election.

The really tenacious might be able to consult an election judge at their county board of elections. If a voter has not moved, has historically voted at the polling location reporting the issue, and is 100% certain she or he should be registered, the judge can decide the voter is eligible to cast a vote.

There is also a hotline: 1-866-OUR-VOTE.

New York voters must be aware, though, that since the state does not allow same-day registration, new voters must have registered by August 19. Previously registered voters who recently moved had to have notified the state of their new addresses by Aug. 24.

Image credit: NY.gov

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