Voting should be considered a non-partisan act, and yet in 2019, it is more politicized than ever. A vote provides an opportunity for one to participate in shaping the kind of democracy they want to see. Because voting is just one form of a citizen’s political power, politicians have been setting up barriers to voting to restrict this power in any and every way possible. New York State is finally taking steps to combat that and open up access to the electoral process.
In a legislative victory for voters’ rights, beginning on October 26th, New Yorkers will finally be able to participate in early voting. This is an attempt to increase voter participation, which has been on a decline for decades — especially in mayoral and gubernatorial campaigns.
Let’s face it, New Yorkers face many unique barriers to voting; May it be making childcare arrangements, long lines at polling site locations, or public transportation costs. Trying to convince someone to put in the additional effort when they don’t get to see the payoff is difficult.
Now that early voting will be rolled out with the upcoming election, voters have the choice to look up their alternative voting location in their county. Even though employers must legally allow their employees to vote if their schedules interfere with polling hours, many employees fear retaliation and refrain. What’s worse, some folks don’t even know they have a right to this.
In the states that have rolled out early voting, the benefits have been higher voter turnout and shorter wait time at the polls. This translates to a more accessible form of government that everyone has the opportunity to participate in. In the 2018 midterm elections, some states found that early voting turnout doubled since the 2014 midterms.
The stakes have never been higher. The best tool of accountability for our elected officials is your vote. The barriers that have been put in place in the past have been a deliberate attempt to deter folks from voting. This stops now. This is a huge step for voting equity in New York State, and there is still much more to be done. Soon New York State will allow 16 and 17 year-olds the opportunity to pre-register to vote so that when they turn 18, they’ll automatically be registered. Campaigns like Let New York Vote are fighting for things like Same Day Voter Registration, and direct registration through the Board of Elections rather than through the DMV. All of this can be accomplished by electing the right people into office.
Government is not the end all be all of systemic change. However, part of having a successful democracy is having one that is reflective of its people. By creating access to voting, we can make progress and bring the issues that matter most to communities to the forefront.