Group strives to resuscitate voting as turnout declines

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Last year’s general election, which included the governor’s race, marked a historic moment for New York — the lowest voter turnout ever in the state. Just 29 percent of all New Yorkers over the age of 18 cast ballots, making New York the 46th worst state in terms of voter participation.

Last month, New York City’s Campaign Finance Board (CFB) announced an urgent need to change the way residents vote by releasing a petition called Vote Better NY. It called for measures including the Voter Empowerment Act, which would expand online registration, enable agencies to register those interested in voting and put the pressure on government to make sure as many people as possible cast their vote on election days.

“Poor turnouts are not indicative of lack of interest in changing the system,” said Art Chang, chair of the CFB’s voter assistance advisory committee. “Folks in New York State feel disenfranchised from their system of voting.”

In addition to the Voter Empowerment Act, the Vote Better NY petition supports the Voter Friendly Ballot Act, which would simplify the state’s paper ballot design, and calls for early voting measures.

CFB hopes to gather 25,000 signatures by May 3 with the hope of influencing lawmakers to pass the measures. The group estimates that 2 million eligible voters throughout the state are not registered, with as many as half of them living in New York City. Data from the 2014 general election showed 641,376 active voters in the Bronx and 83,200 inactive constituents in the borough. 

Breaking down the regions of the state where voting turnout was lowest was of little interest to Mr. Chang, who saw the situation as a big-picture embarrassment.

“As a state overall, we’re already a failure. No one really does better because they’re all failing,” he said.

Regarding the Voter Friendly Ballot Act, Mr. Chang said, “In New York, ballots are nearly illegible. The ballots themselves were designed in an era where you had lever machines. There’s no need for the ballot to look the way it does.”

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