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New York’s Low Voter Turnout Conundrum

By Kristen Meriwether
Epoch Times Staff
Created: September 19, 2012 Last Updated: September 25, 2012
Related articles: United States » New York City
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Board of Elections/City of New York

Board of Elections/City of New York

NEW YORK—Call it voter apathy or political fatigue, but New York City, like many cities across the country, is seeing a steady decline of voters coming out to the polls. In the 2009 mayoral election, the city had the lowest turnout since 1969 with only 29 percent of the 4.1 million registered voters casting their ballots.

“Apathy breeds apathy. If you are not happy with who is in there, chances are you are not happy with the decisions they are making and people feel disaffected from the process.” Christina Greer, assistant professor of political science at Fordham University said. “Many people keep feeling more and more disaffected every year. They are excusing themselves from the process all together, therefore the process never changes.”

The law allows for two hours of paid time off for the city’s 4.6 million registered voters to make it to one of the 1,359 polling places in all five boroughs.

However, even with hotly contested races on both June 28 and Sept. 13, this year’s primary elections had turnout percentages in the teens.

While the city and state board of elections have taken steps to ease the process for voters, experts believe more could be done.

“People are interested in the issues that affect them at the local level, but there just needs to be a lot more done to break down the barriers to voting. If we do that, we will see higher turnout rates on election days,” Andy Morrison, Statewide Outreach director for New York Public Interest Research Group said.

Empty voting booths at a public school in the Financial District on Sept. 13. (Benjamin Chasteen/The Epoch Times)

Empty voting booths at a public school in the Financial District on Sept. 13. (Benjamin Chasteen/The Epoch Times)

New York City voters who want to cast their ballot in the upcoming Nov. 6 federal election will have to register 25 days in advance (Oct. 12) or miss out on their once-every-four-year opportunity.

Morrison believes offering a same day registration, something offered in eight states already, would increase voter turnout. “As you get closer to the election, there is a lot more enthusiasm. People suddenly make up their minds they want to vote, but if they show up to the polls after that 25-day marker, they are not able to vote,” Morrison said.

New York is one of 18 states that does not offer early voting, so those who can’t make it out on Election Day miss out. Alex Camarda, director of Public Policy for Citizen’s Union believes getting in line with the other 32 states could increase voter turnout.

“If you happen to work long hours, or have something else going on that prevents you from getting to the polls, you miss the once-in-every-four-year opportunity to vote,” Camarda said.

The city just moved from the archaic pull lever machines to electronic scanners in 2010, however for the younger generation who is used to doing everything on a computer, going to a site to fulfill their civic duty is not in step with the times. “I think it is increasingly out of sync with what, especially younger people, are accustomed to. In Oregon, for example, people vote entirely by mail,” said Camarda.

None of the experts The Epoch Times spoke with was ready to see voting done online due to security issues, but Morrison said students, who have the lowest voter turnout rates, should get to the polls, regardless of how analog it may seem.

“We remind them they shouldn’t be surprised when legislators cut funding for higher education because when their turnout is low, legislators don’t have to be as responsive to their needs,” said Morrison. “When fewer people vote, the people we elect are not going to be as responsive to the needs of the people.”

Elected officials and government agencies can take steps to ease the process, but it is the voter who has the responsibility to get out on Election Day and cast their ballot. “People should be more engaged and should care more deeply about the decisions their government makes that impact them greatly,” Camarda said.

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