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New York’s arcane voting laws deny a basic right. Fix them now

In this Feb. 23, 2016, photo, volunteers' names

In this Feb. 23, 2016, photo, volunteers' names decorate wall art at the campaign office of Democratic presidential candidate Hillary Clinton in Omaha, Neb. Democrats in Nebraska, where there is only one Democrat among the state's five-member congressional delegation and none holding statewide office, usually find voting little more than an exercise in civic engagement. But the state's March 5 Democratic presidential caucus brings with it a rare chance for the state's Democratic Party members to influence who will get the Democratic nomination for president for 2016. Photo Credit: AP / Nati Harnik

Primary and caucus voters across the nation have encountered confusing rules and lines so long some could not cast ballots. New York, too, was criticized when the campaign got here. It’s time for lawmakers to fix a voting process in dire need of change.

That was true even before reports of problems Tuesday, especially in NYC. Voter purges, broken machines and closed precincts underscore the incompetence of the city Board of Elections and call for better training and technology, and an investigation of the dysfunctional agency.

But our concerns run deeper than such snafus. Current election law is designed to maintain control of the process by Democratic and Republican party officials. It suppresses turnout and bars insurgent success. The backroom days should be long over. Here’s what we’d like to see:

Easier voter registration. That would mean more new voters and more participation. Gov. Andrew Cuomo’s proposed state budget mandated automatic voter registration for eligible residents dealing with state agencies such as the departments of Labor and Motor Vehicles, SUNY colleges and the National Guard. But Republicans blocked that, fearing most of those enrollees would be Democrats.

Easier party-switching. Unaffiliated voters wanting to register as Democrats or Republicans to vote in the primary or anyone wanting to switch parties discovered they had to do so by Oct. 9 of last year. That’s far too early. The cutoff must be closer to the election.

Extend voting time. One day is too short, given people’s complicated lives and work schedules. One month is too long, given the likelihood something could happen to make a voter regret a quick decision. Find a compromise; perhaps starting the weekend before would work.

Adapt to new technology. This will allow for faster and more accurate updating of voter rolls.

Reject the use of “Independence” or “Independent” in party names. Too many confused voters want to register as unaffiliated but end up in a party that stands for nothing.

Voting is a fundamental part of our democracy. But every year, too many potential voters are left on the sidelines. It’s time to get them into the game.


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