As New Yorkers gear up for Primary elections this week, turnout is a key variable.
How many voters will support candidates like Martin Dilan, Cynthia Nixon or Julia Salazar? During presidential elections, turnout rate is around 60 percent (it’s around 50 percent for midterms) but turnout rate for local elections ranges from 5 to 20 percent.
New York has one of the country’s worst voter turnout rates and recent high profile elections, such as Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez’s victory had only 12% turnout according to CNN. New Yorkers, particularly in Bushwick, face many barriers to voting. ome deliberate and some known as process barriers: the result of a complicated system and a lack of information that disproportionately targets young first time voters, minorities and non English speakers.
Process barriers encompass everything from issues with registration, moving (from another neighborhood or state) and not changing an address and issues with an absentee ballot. DemocracyWorks Communications Director Brandon Naylor shared Census Data from 2012 that shows 60% of non voters are kept away by process barriers, not apathy. DemocracyWorks runs TurboVote, a free bilingual service that makes voting easier, with email and SMS reminders to register, update registrations, and participate in elections at all levels. They partner with universities and have worked with Univision in the past to increase participation and registration in Spanish speaking communities.
Democratic Primary elections in New York are closed, meaning only registered members of the party can participate. The deadline to join or switch parties before a primary election is the longest in the country —voters must file to switch eleven months before the election. Potential voters excited by local candidates may show up at the polls and be unable to vote, an experience which could discourage future voters. The New York Democratic Party could easily reverse this ruling, which would likely increase turnout and could help progressive candidates running against incumbents.
Aside from rules and processes that limit participation, deliberate attempts to suppress participation have occured. New York City’s Board of Elections settled a lawsuit in the winter 2017 over the removal of 117,000 Brooklyn voters from the rolls between 2013 and 2017.
Many of the purged voters had Hispanic or Asian surnames, representing an effort to limit their electoral participation. The purged voters were disproportionately Hispanic and the purge reduced Brooklyn’s population of voters by 7% and primarily affected the 7th Congressional District which is 39 percent Hispanic, includes Williamsburg and Bushwick and is represented by Nydia Velasquez according to WYNC.
The case was brought to the Court by Common Cause New York and they signed off on a settlement that included the following:“The improper removal of voters from the rolls deprives voters of their voice in choosing elected representatives,” acting U.S. Attorney Bridget M. Rohde of the Eastern District of New York said in a statement Tuesday. “The settlement in this case restores that voice and ensures that eligible voters will be heard in the future.”
The removals, which began in late 2013 or early 2014 came to light in April 2016 after the New York Presidential Primary and targeted voters who had not voted since 2008, a violation of New York State Election law, according to NBC News. The Election Board submitted a plan to resolve the issue, restored the purged voters to the rolls and set up provisions for greater monitoring and oversight.
Other efforts to suppress voting are underway in New York State. In 2017, New York State considered Voter ID laws and introduced a provision to make it more difficult to assist someone in delivering an absentee ballots, according to Let America Vote, an organization that aims to “fight back against proposals across the country that make it harder for eligible voters to exercise their constitutional right to cast a ballot.”
On September 13th, olls will be open from 6 a.m. to 9 p.m. Get an overview of the issues here and we’ll see you at the polls this Thursday.
If you’re unsure of where to vote in the, use this online tool to find a polling place near you.
Cover photo courtesy of Elliott Stallion