New York State Near Bottom in Voter Turnout Rankings
New York City hit a historic low in voter turnout last November, but the latest report from the U.S. Election Assistance Commission makes it clear that our voter turnout crisis extends across New York State. After each federal election, the EAC collects data from election administrators around the country about voter registration and turnout for the best comparison for how states stack up against each other. New York routinely ranks near the bottom for turnout in EAC reports, and 2014 was no different. The state trailed the rest of the nation, ranking 46th for voter turnout among the citizen voting age population (CVAP). An abysmally low 29.1% of citizens age 18 or over cast a ballot last November – only slightly better than the 20% who turned out in New York City. New York can and should do more to encourage civic participation among voters — starting with reforming our outdated, restrictive election laws. NYC Votes advocated for election reforms in Albany this year, and we will be discussing other ways to boost civic participation at our conference this week.
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At least four of the states at the bottom of the list – Indiana, Mississippi, Tennessee, and Texas –recently passed voter ID laws that make it more difficult for voters to cast a ballot. New Jersey was one of only two states that did not have a gubernatorial race in 2014, which partially explains its low turnout.
Compare this to the top 10 states, all of which offer more modernized election laws than New York. Six of them – Colorado, Iowa, Minnesota, Montana, New Hampshire, and Wisconsin – allow voters to register on the same day they show up at the polls to vote. Hawaii is slated to implement same day registration in 2018.
All of the top 10 states (except for New Hampshire) allow voters to cast an early, in-person ballot, and to vote by absentee ballot without providing a valid excuse. Two states – Colorado and Oregon – conduct their elections by mail, sending a ballot to every registered voter. In the past few years, both of these states have taken measures to make their elections even more voter-friendly. Colorado passed the Voter Access & Modernized Elections Act in 2013, which implemented mail voting and created voter centers where everyone can drop off their ballot and new voters can register and vote the same day. Earlier this year, Oregon passed the first-of-its-kind law to automatically register every person with a driver’s license or government ID from the state DMV.
While other states have taken steps to make elections more convenient and accessible for voters, New York remains stuck with a hopelessly outdated election system, and our turnout rates suffer as a result. It’s time for lawmakers to adopt transformative measures, like early voting and modern voter registration methods, or else New York will continue to languish near the bottom of the EAC rankings.