Citizens Union’s New York Voter Turnout Initiative is a ten-year campaign to reverse New York’s appallingly low voter turnout rate. We contend this low rate has helped fuel the culture of corruption at both the state and local levels since elected officials feel less accountable to a smaller and seemingly ever-shrinking electorate. To address this challenge and others, we need to change our voting systems and culture; educate, engage and empower more citizens to take part in our elections and, ultimately, increase voter participation. 

Sixty years ago, New York’s voter turnout was the envy of the nation – but in 2014 we ranked 49th out of 50 states. When New Yorkers voted in the April 2016 presidential primary, we had the second lowest voter turnout after Louisiana.

In 1953, 93% of all registered New York City voters turned out. In 1993, 57% of registered voters turned out to vote in the mayoral contest between David Dinkins and Rudy Giuliani. In 2013, only 26% of registered voters turned out to cast a ballot in New York’s mayoral race.

It gets worse. For the determinative Democratic Party primary election in 2013, less than a quarter of registered Democrats cast a ballot, and our current mayor, Bill de Blasio, won the nomination with just 282,000 votes (8.5%) of the 2.9 million registered Democratic voters in New York City. And ultimately, he was elected mayor with just 795,000 votes, which means he had the support of only 19% of the 4.25 million total registered voters in New York City, at the time when the city’s population was 8.4 million.

Low voter turnout coupled with only marginally competitive elections create a culture of stagnation ripe for the sort of corruption we see crippling our democracy. Former legislative leaders Silver and Skelos became the 32nd and 33rd state lawmakers forced from office since 2000 because of corruption or misconduct. Having more competitive contests for elected office is essential to a healthy, well-functioning democracy. Assisting in this decline is the absence of any civics curriculum in our public education. Less informed citizens participate at lower levels, further eroding a culture of voter responsibility, and deeply depressing voter turnout.

Citizens Union launched the ten-year, coalition-backed Voter Turnout Initiative to boost voter turnout in November, 2016.

Strategies to Increase Voter Turnout

Enacting online and same-day (election-day) registration.

Increasing access to information for voters by moving communication into the digital age.

Giving voters more ways and days to cast their ballots, including: providing New Yorkers with multiple days to vote prior to Election Day; allowing no-excuse absentee ballots; and reducing the number of primary election dates in any given year to no more than two.

Overhauling election administration by changing the bipartisan board of elections structure to a Chief Elections Officer model to make voting less of a political event and more of a government managed civil service responsibility.

Background

Citizens Union is a leading advocate for improvements in the voting process as part of its campaign to remove barriers to citizens who wish to cast their ballot and ensure that every vote counts. Our strategic priorities include, advocating for comprehensive campaign finance reform, Election Day voter registration, secure voting machines, poll worker recruitment and training, restructuring of the State Board of Elections, and reforming the way in which elected official vacancies are filled. Through these efforts and others to make elections in New York more accountable, transparent and secure, Citizens Union continues its efforts to make lasting improvements to the way voters cast their ballots and sweeping changes to the operations of elections in New York.

Previous work:

December 16, 2014 -- Testimony to the Voter Assistance and Advisory Committee, Post Election Hearing
December 12, 2014 -- Testimony to the New York State Assembly Committee on Election Law
October 23, 2014 -- Testimony to City Council on Governmental Operations on Agency Voter Registration
October 2014 -- A Broken Promise: Agency-Based Voter Registration in New York City
February 28, 2014 -- Testimony to City Council on DOI Investigation Recommendations - City Board of Elections
February 4, 2014 -- CU Commends City Board of Elections for Increasing Font on Ballot
December 9, 2013 -- Testimony to the Assembly Election Law Committee on Instant Runoff Voting and Other Election Reforms
November 21, 2013 -- Testimony to City Council Regarding Instant Runoff Voting and Sample Ballot Legislation
July 17, 2013 -- CU Release, Position to Modernize Reporting of Unofficial Election Results
May 2013 -- Issue Brief and Position Statement on Instant Runoff Voting and the New York City Runoff Election
March 19, 2013 -- CU Praises City Board of Elections for their Detailed Annual Report
February 12, 2013 -- Good Government Groups' Statement on Speaker Silver's Early Voting Legislation
January 4, 2013 -- Good Government Groups Praise Legislative Leaders for Support of Early Voting
December 5, 2012 -- Testimony to the City Council Re: 2012 General Election and Reform Proposals
November 14, 2012 -- CU Release Regarding Arroyo Complaint Letter to Board of Elections
November 14, 2012 -- Complaint Letter to City Board of Elections Re: Assemblymember Arroyo Alleged Violations
October 15, 2012 -- Testimony to the City Council Urging Passage of Election Reform Package
October 15, 2012 -- CU, Civic Groups and Councilmembers Call of City Council to Pass Election Reforms
July 2012 -- CU Position on Modernizing Reporting of Unofficial Election Results
April 2012 -- Good Government Groups Letter to City Board of Elections on Sample Ballots
March 2012 --  CU Releases Updated Report Finding 1/3 of Legislators First Elected in Special Election; Calls for Reforms to Open the Process of Filling Vacancies 
March 2012 --  Table of Legislators First Elected in Special Elections 
November 2011 -- CU Testimony to State Assembly on HAVA and Transition to New Voting Machines
June 2011 -- CU Report, Circumventing Democracy: The Flawed Process for Filling Vacancies in State Government, 2011 Update
December 6, 2010 -- CU Testimony to City Council Government Operations Committee on 2010 General Election and Election Reform
December 6, 2010 -- News Release on Mayor Bloomberg's Election Recommendations  and Report on Election Reforms
November 4, 2010 -- CU Analysis: 26 Counties Post Sample Ballots Online
October 30, 2010 -- Civic Groups' Troubleshooting Guide for NYC Voters
October 4, 2010 -- CU Testimony to on 2010 Primary Election and New Voting Machines to the City Council Governmental Operations Committee
September 29, 2010 -- CU Testimony on 2010 Primary Election and New Voting Machines to the Senate Elections Committee
September 29, 2010 --  CU Testimony on 2010 Primary Election and New Voting Machines to the Voter Assistance Commission 
September 7, 2010 -- CU Testimony on Implementing of New Voting Machines to the City Council Government Operations Committee
June 9, 2009 -- CU Memo of Support for S.5172/A.4467 Authorizing 17-year-olds to Serve as Election Inspectors and Poll Clerks
June 2, 2009 -- CU Memo of Support for S.5288/A.657 Removing the Bipartisan Requirement for the New York State Board of Elections
June 1, 2009 -- CU Memo of Support for S.5028/A.8277 Removing Current Limitations for Voting by Absentee Ballot
May 18, 2009 -- Citizens Union News Release Proposing Eliminating the the Board of Elections
May 18, 2009 --  Citizens Union Foundation Executive Summary and Recommendations: New York Needs Election Reform Now: From Industrial Age Patronage to Information Age Accountability 
May 18, 2009 -- Citizens Union Foundation Detailed Recommendations for Election Reform 
May 15, 2009 -- CU Memo of Support for S.1616/A.3734 Eliminating Ten Day Requirement for Voting Registration
May 2009 -- Citizens Union Issue Brief and Position Statement on Filling Lieutenant Governor Vacancies
April 24, 2009 -- Testimony to the NYS Senate Elections Committee Relating to Updating and Reforming the State's Voter Registration Laws and Regulations
March 30, 2009 -- CU Memo of Support for A.4015/S.1057 Counting Affidavit Ballots as an Application to Register to Vote
March 30, 2009 -- CU Memo of Support for A.4962/S.1554 Counting Affidavit Ballots in Correct Polling Place but Wrong Polling District
March 9, 2009 -- CU Memo of Support for S.1434/A.4961 Prohibiting Election Commissioners from Holding a Publicly Elected Office
March 4, 2009 --  Testimony to the Board of Elections of the City of New York on Proposed Voting Machines 
December 17, 2008 -- Testimony to the City Council Governmental Operations Committee on Election Day Lines
December 11, 2008 -- Testimony provided at the Voter Assistance Commission's Annual Meeting | Testimony to the City Council Governmental Operations Committee on Election Reform and Modernization CU Proposes Reforms for the Filling of Vacancies/Special Elections
February 19, 2008 --  CU Calls for Investigation in the Reporting of Primary Votes  
February 6, 2008 --   Testimony to the Board of Elections of the City of New York Regarding New Voting Machines 
April 2007 --  CUF Report - Circumventing Democracy: The Flawed Process for Filling Vacancies for Elected Office in New York 
March 5, 2007 -- Statement on City Council Special Election 
November 2005 --  CUF Report - Election Day Voter Registration: Simplifying the Voting Process and Increasing Voter Turnout in New York City