Sunday, 19 May 2024

Opinion | A To-Do List for Democrats in Albany

Now that New York Democrats have regained control of the State Senate, while retaining control of the Assembly, they might want to take a look at how the election went down in New York City.

Across the five boroughs, voters endured lines of up to four hours. At some polling sites, all the ballot scanners broke, and voters — those who could manage to spare the time — had to stand around waiting for technicians to fix them.

After broken voting machines left James Yolles waiting 90 minutes at his polling site, at P.S. 705 in Brooklyn, he finally had to go, infuriated, to meet his young son’s babysitter. He said he hoped to return after work, but in the end he wasn’t able to.

The executive director of the city’s Board of Elections, Michael Ryan, blamed the rain, with people “having wet clothing and perhaps ballots getting wet,” and gumming up the scanners.

You might be thinking that, in the year 2018, New York’s voting should be proof against a little drizzle. No matter the precise reasons for this specific foul-up, the dysfunction in what residents like to think of as the most sophisticated city in the world was an example of the broader dysfunction of the state’s electoral system.

It is run by a calcified, partisan bureaucracy that is among the worst election agencies in the country. A Democratic Legislature could impose measures to make voting easier — reducing idiotically long lines on Election Day — and modernize the election system.

New York could have early voting, as do more than three dozen other states. And allowing residents to get absentee ballots without having to provide a reason would give voters more options and also ease Election Day lines.

The Legislature should professionalize the state’s election board system. Now, state law requires election boards to be made up of members selected by the two main political parties. Though the system is bipartisan, it emphasizes mere partisanship over actual qualification. It has also tended to create gridlock.

The New York City Board of Elections, for example, is made up of 10 commissioners, five chosen by the Democratic Party and five by the Republican Party, with members from each borough. The Legislature should change state election law to make the board more accountable to the city and its taxpayers, rather than party officials. That could mean remaking the board into a nonpartisan body, or requiring by state law that anyone appointed to serve as an elections official have relevant experience and qualifications apart from membership in the Democratic or Republican Party.

While Tuesday’s voting might have made it seem that New York has no problem getting its residents out to vote, turnout in most elections in the city and the state is dismal. It would improve if the Legislature approved automatic voter registration, which puts people on the voting rolls when they interact with a state agency, like the Department of Motor Vehicles. Same-day registration would allow New Yorkers to register and vote on the same day.

After passing these urgent reforms, the Legislature should turn to the rest of its agenda.

At the top of the list is moving to fix the subway, protect women’s reproductive rights and pass other important legislation stymied by Republicans and others for too long.

By passing the Reproductive Health Act, the Legislature can codify the protections of Roe v. Wade in state law and modernize the state’s antiquated abortion statutes. Republicans in the State Senate held up passage of the bill, but Gov. Andrew Cuomo has said he wants to pass it in the first 30 days of the new legislative session.

The biggest challenge will be approving a congestion pricing plan to help pay for the overhaul of the New York City subway system. Mr. Cuomo, the soon-to-be Senate majority leader, Andrea Stewart-Cousins, and Assembly Speaker Carl Heastie should get to work right away whipping up votes for such a plan.

Millions of New York voters braved long waits and cold rain on Tuesday to make Albany work for them. Come January, Democrats have a chance to show them that they made the right choice.

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