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.
Returning civics education curricula to schools to build knowledge about how our government works, and the role each individual plays in the creation of true, functioning democracy.
Seeking out other ways to educate and engage citizens and communities to foster a stronger culture of civic responsibility, overall, including how important it is to vote.
Expanding the eligible electorate by allowing former felons to vote, and permitting 16-17 year olds to register if they will be 18 at the time of election.
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.