New York has one of the lowest voter turnouts in the country, this is very surprising since New Yorkers are best known for their outspoken and progressive attitudes.
Never ones to shy away from expressing themselves, why are the people who live in is the state so bad when it comes to expressing themself at the ballot? But, what if New York’s lackluster election day performance is not about being unmotivated voters. What if it’s really voter suppression. Could New York be suffering from the same system that has plagued Alabama?
In case you need a reminder, In the twilight of 2017, a heated election played out between Alabama Republican gubernatorial incumbent Roy Moore, in the midst of assault accusations with minors, and challenger Doug Jones, who helped prosecute two of the Klansmen responsible for the 1963 church bombing responsible for the deaths of four Black girls. From far away, this election seemed like a no-brainer in favor of Jones, but because of Alabama’s restrictive voting laws that ostracize its significant African-American population, Moore was nearly poised for reelection.
The dismantled Voting Rights Act in 2013 had already stripped away protections that enable citizens’ abilities to vote, but they also took it a few steps further by closed polling locations, purged qualified names, and enforced photo identification rules. Subsequently, closing local DMVs in Black-majority areas where IDs could be sought.
While Jones ultimately defeated Moore, his win can be attributed to the relentless mobilization of the state’s Black women voters who used their vote and canvassing efforts to sway away from a conservatism that would have harmed them.
New York, as progressive as some profess it to be, is not immune voter suppression. The tactics to control who gets and doesn’t get to the polls are varied, and some believe were used in New York’s last primary.
On Thursday, September 13, New York State headed to the ballots to determine what nominee from each party would represent them for our general elections on Tuesday, November 6th. They hoped that lessons were learned from our 2016 Presidential elections where, during the April primaries, 125,000 Democratic Brooklyn voters experienced a shock at the polls when they discovered that their names had been removed from voter rolls, discounting many votes for candidate Bernie Sanders. The situation was no better for that November’s general elections, where 168,000 people were forced to submit paper affidavit votes because their names were erased from rolls in purges, and 78,000 votes did not count because of misinformation causing voters to cast their ballots at the wrong site and without adequate notification and time to challenge this.
While turnout was higher, this year’s primary was nearly as much of a fiasco, with numerous New Yorkers using social media to shed light on voter suppression. Thousands voters discovered their names had been removed from voter rolls, including the son of Mayor Bill de Blasio. Also, odd events, that curiously asked NYCHA residents to stay home. Many of them receiving flyers that, on the day of the primary, required them to stay in their apartments for official inspections from 8AM to 4PM, severely limiting many residents’ voting availability. New York polls are open from 6AM to 9PM. NYCHA denied that this conflict was intentional and soon apologized but it’s difficult to believe that a city-run organization would miss something so glaring.
On #NYPrimary day, #NYCHA asked its residents, mostly people or color, to remain home from 8 a.m. to 4 p.m. for an apartment inspection. Is that suss to you or nah? #VoteNYC pic.twitter.com/sj0HW0ntXy— Son of Baldwin (@SonofBaldwin) September 13, 2018
In addition, voters documented poll troubles wherein their ballots were misprinted, which would have caused them to be rejected by voting machines. Such time-consuming mistakes cause voters to have to vote over again, leading to increased delays and alienating those on line who don’t have the time to sacrifice. When voting feels like a burden, people are less likely to engage in civic participation. One man even chronicled that his party had been changed from Democratic to Reform, despite having been registered and voting Democrat for years, disqualifying him from voting in the Democratic primary. The various voting grievances were seemingly endless.
So after years of being registered as a dirty dem, I get to the voting place today and am informed I am now registered as a member of the Reform Party. And that I can’t vote. WEIRD.— Michael Ballaban (@Ballaban) September 13, 2018
Community organizers and local leaders have been long advocating to make voting easier for everyone, even beyond the Civil Rights Era were suffrage was not a legal right for many Black citizens. More recently, some activists have argued for New Yorkers to be able to vote early—already implemented in several states to great effect—or voting by mail, diminishing obstacles that keep people away from the polls, like disabilities or a work/life schedule that isn’t lenient. But early voting continues to languish as funding was removed from this year’s state budget. Efforts to support a suitable time frame for mail-in ballots are necessary, as well as giving voters more time to change their party affiliation. Proponents of democracy are also demanding same-day registration, which allows voters to register the day of the election, and automatic registration when their verified information is registered at their local Department of Motor Vehicles. In addition, politicians should consider making Election Day a holiday so work requirements are no longer an obstacle.
States across the country are fighting against voter disenfranchisement that affects the formerly incarcerated, stripping them of their voting rights, sometimes permanently. This year, Governor Andrew Cuomo signed a bill reinstating rights to vote to around 24,000 former prisoners, allowing them to participate in this year’s New York midterms, but how strong are efforts to actually notify these men and women that their rights have been restored?
Voter ID laws and gerrymandering are also crushing civic efforts for equal participation. These laws disproportionately affects the young, the old, and people of color, creating a very narrow pool of voters-- an intentional effort.
While it may be debatable as to whether this is a technique of suppression, decreased overall engagement can be attributed to the lack of required civics education in schools. As young and ideal people are often the target of suppression, denying them information on political processes may affect their approach to participatory democracy as adults.
Informing voters about suppression efforts is crucial. It’s disheartening to see tepid turnout for elections when our political landscape is currently so tumultuous. Many choose to opt out from voting believing things may never change, but many just can’t make the effort because the barriers are too substantial. Voter shaming is a common tactic to inspire people to vote. Whatever the reason someone doesn’t vote, the answer isn’t antagonization, it’s motivation. Make it part of your civic duty to help others exercise their right to vote. Offer rides to neighbors and friends to local polling stations where public transportation suffers, or organize all-day carpools for greater effect, and assist those who may need help registering or finding voting resources. If money is an obstacle, set up a fund to help finance others who find monetary roadblocks to voting too high. Employers should be more flexible to give time off to those required to work during voting hours.
The deadline to register for New York’s November 6th general elections is Friday, October 12th.
As soon as you finish reading this, check RIGHT NOW to make sure you’re registered to vote, even if you just voted, even if you’ve just checked. Many would-be voters will be stymied by voter purges and it’s important to remain vigilant and inform others to check their statuses.
Sometimes it takes a village to make sure everyone shows up to vote.
Let us know what you think! Do you think your rights as a voter are under attack? Learn more about midterm candidates at Race To Represent.