When the U.S. Constitution was ratified in 1789, it provided for a number of civil liberties — many of which we still enjoy today. But where this great document really stumbled, however, was who exactly was allowed to step into the voting booth.
In the beginning, these were decisions left almost entirely up to states. And those states were quick to decide the only votes that mattered were from white men who owned property.
It would take decades and several amendments to that constitution before those rights were expanded to include everyone — amendments that thousands of people fought hard for, ensuring that every adult — no matter what your gender, color, religion, race, or personal assets — were given a chance to cast a ballot.
But when you see the number of people who turn out for elections, it’s hard not to wonder if all that work to enfranchise voters was even worth it.
Earlier this year, Politifact challenged a statement from state senate minority leader Andrea Stewart-Cousins that claimed New York was one of the worst states in the nation when it came to voter turnout.
That couldn’t be the case, right? New York has the fourth-highest number of registered voters in the country, and New Yorkers know how important it is to make sure the collective voice of this state is heard.
Yet, Sen. Stewart-Cousins was right. Voter turnout in presidential election years hovered just below 60 percent, earning us rankings ranging from 35th in 2000 to 43rd in 2008.
When it comes to off-year elections, it gets even worse. In 2014, U.S. House races in various states turned out about 13 percent of voters, according to Pew Research Center, while the U.S. Senate drew 16 percent. Gubernatorial races were just slightly higher at 18 percent.
But there is a lot more interest this year. Pew has witnessed jumps in states that already have held primaries, ranging from 18 to 25 percent.
This is great news, but still reminds us that even on our best days, only 1 in 4 registered voters are making the trek.
New York doesn’t have to be this bad — and it shouldn’t be. Yes, we need to be more enthusiastic about casting ballots, but our state officials need to be more enthusiastic about encouraging us to vote.
It seems almost comical to hear those leaders talk about the importance of voting, but have failed to pass even simple reforms to the system — like early voting — which would make it far easier for many to cast their ballots.
New York’s election system operates in the past, when you can vote on one day and one day only, and where voting precincts remain too few and too far between.
We might feel like our vote doesn’t matter, but it does. Will your ballot, by itself, swing an election? Most likely not. But it’s the one chance you can really share your voice in a way where it can make a difference.
There is a ballot waiting for you on Thursday. Get out and make it count.