New York City Council Speaker Melissa Mark-Viverito (D) outlined her voting reform agenda in her State Of The City address today.
Ease the Voting Process:
Unfortunately, many people do not exercise their right to vote. In the 2014 midterm elections, New York State ranked 49th in the nation for voter participation, only 29% of eligible voters voted. In New York City, only 20% of eligible voters cast ballots, hitting an historic low. Part of the blame for low voter turnout rests with New York State’s antiquated voting laws, which have failed to keep up with improvements to registration and voting accessibility seen in other jurisdictions.
The most significant reforms are only possible at the State level, and today, the Speaker called on the State to take the bold steps necessary to modernize New York’s registration and voting policies, including implementing automatic registration, preregistering youth, establishing early voting, allowing for same-day voter registration, and facilitating absentee voting.
The Council will call on the State to enact:
• The Voter Empowerment Act (A.5972 Kavanagh/S.2538B Gianaris), which would enact reforms including automatic agency-based registration, online registration as a universal option, pre-registration of 16- and 17-year olds, and moving the registration deadline closer to Election Day.
• Early voting, which would allow voting prior to Election Day.
• A constitutional amendment to allow same-day voter registration.
• A constitutional amendment to allow no-excuse absentee voting, so any registered voter can vote absentee in-person or by mail.
At the City level, the Council will also work to ease the process of registering and voting by pursuing new initiatives:
• The Online Voter Information Portal and App will be a one-stop shop for voter information, where users can find the absentee ballot application; track their absentee ballot’s status; look up their voting history, registration status, party enrollment, and sample ballots; find polling hours, their polling place, and the voter guide; and sign up to be a poll worker.
• Voter Notifications through Email and Text Messaging will provide voters with the option of receiving e-mail and/or text message notifications about elections, including much of the information contained in the Online Information Portal and App. Text messages have been used to engage voters and drive turnout in the Council’s participatory budgeting efforts.
• Notice on Former Poll Sites will require formerly used poll sites to have posted notices directing voters to their new site.
In order to empower New York City’s youth and increase their participation in government, the Council will:
• Fund civic engagement programs, so that high school and college students move from civic theory to civic action, advocating for their points of view on real-world issues affecting their communities.
• Expand Student Voter Registration Days in New York City’s high schools, with the goal of registering 10,000 students to vote. This will expand the Council’s current initiative that funds student voter registration and engagement at 56 high schools to 125 high schools.
• Establish the New York City Social Justice Postgraduate Fellowship, an exciting new program to place diverse and talented graduates of professional and graduate schools in full-time, year-long positions in City government. This Fellowship will harness the passion of young New Yorkers, including social workers, lawyers and policy analysts, who want to make a difference in their communities.
NYC Wins When Everyone Can Vote! Michael H. Drucker