By Lisa Scott
In New York State, we’ve truly had a landmark election. We had record-breaking rates of voter participation statewide with nearly 50 percent of voters turning out to vote.
Nationwide, in the face of suppression attempts, long lines, broken machines and partisan gerrymandering, voters turned out in huge numbers. They demanded better from our leaders. More women were elected to office than ever before, including the first Muslim and Native American women, the first black woman from New England and the first Latina women from Texas — all elected to Congress. Voting rights were expanded, with redistricting reforms and expanded registration passed in at least six states.
We are so proud of young voters who showed up, increasing the national youth turnout by roughly 50 percent over 2014. Early estimates signaled this could be the highest turnout for 18- to 29-year-olds since 18-year-olds were first granted the right to vote in 1971. Their votes helped to elect one of the most diverse slates of federal candidates, decided thousands of elections up and down the ballot and impacted progressive ballot measures across the country. By 2020, young people will comprise nearly 40 percent of voters, including nearly 9 million who turn 18 between now and the 2020 election. The League of Women Voters will continue and expand its programs to engage, educate and encourage youth to register and vote; they are our future.
In New York State strong voter turnout also highlighted the vulnerabilities and problems with our NY election laws. Separate primaries — federal offices held in June and state and local held in September — resulted in ballots not being certified until 3 weeks before Election Day and a significant delay in absentee ballots being mailed out. This resulted in confusion, mistrust and voters feeling disenfranchised. Yet there were increased absentee ballots submitted, indicating the importance of early voting options to our fellow NYS voters. Not having early voting also created long lines and extra problems on Election Day for voters, poll workers and the BOE.
The good news is that there is a way to solve these problems as early as next year. Early voting in NYS does not require a constitutional amendment but can be achieved through legislation in Albany. It will require electronic poll books, which have been used successfully in pilot projects in two NYS counties; the technology exists and is already being used in many states. Consolidating primaries does not need a constitutional amendment but needs agreement among lawmakers of both parties. Establishing only one primary date, earlier than September, would save NYS considerable money, which could offset the cost of early voting. Consolidated primaries would also end the problem of delayed mailing of absentee ballots.
Now that the election is behind us, it’s time to look ahead. The NYS Senate will now have a majority of Democratic members, many of whom have voiced support for league voting reform efforts in the past. The NYS Assembly passes voting reforms each year. We feel confident that we will finally see passage of early voting and other voting reforms in New York State during the January-June 2019 legislative session, with approval by the governor (and including funding in his budget).
The league will also continue its work registering more new voters, providing more nonpartisan information on candidates, hosting more debates and forums and advocating for legislation on critical issues, in an effort to create a more perfect democracy so that ALL Americans enjoy the same liberties and freedoms. Our democracy is truly strongest when everyone participates and has their voices heard. On Nov. 6, voters made huge steps toward full participation. But we still have so far to go. With your help and participation, the league can make a difference in your communities, Suffolk County, New York State and the nation. Call or email us to find out how you can get involved.
Lisa Scott is president of the League of Women Voters of Suffolk County, a nonprofit, nonpartisan organization that encourages the informed and active participation of citizens in government and influences public policy through education and advocacy. For more information, visit https://www.lwv-suffolkcounty.org, email [email protected] or call 631-862-6860.