Stringer: Super storm at the ballot box

December 3, 2012 Editorial Staff
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Hurricane Sandy showcased how vulnerable New York City is to the wrath of Mother Nature. But as voters saw first-hand on Election Day, the storm also underscored how decades of poor decisions have created significant barriers to political participation across the Empire State.

New York City consistently has some of the lowest voter turnout in the nation. Last June, the city’s Campaign Finance Board reported that in the November 2010 elections, turnout in the city was significantly lower (28 percent) than in the rest of the state (53 percent) and nationally (46 percent). New York City also had lower voter turnout in the presidential elections in 2008 than any other major U.S. city. And turnout in 2012 was even worse.

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Voting complaints—ranging from long lines and broken machines, to poorly-trained staff and a lack of ballots—flowed in from all corners of the city.

At P.S. 29 in Cobble Hill, a woman reported being sent to the wrong place twice and having her district location read incorrectly three times.

In East Flatbush, many reported long lines, poor coordination, and inadequately trained staff, at sites including Vanderveer Park United Methodist Church, P.S. 135, P.S. 181, P.S. 269 and P.S. 198.

Voters in Bedford-Stuyvesant reported delays of up to three hours at P.S. 262. Voters at Canarsie High School reportedly suffered five to six hour delays after four voting machines broke down and weren’t fixed until 4 p.m.

In Ditmas Park, voters waited up to two hours to vote at Marlborough Gardens where 20 polling booths, four scanners and around 50 people crammed into a small day care center while another polling place directly across the street, Cortelyou Road Public Library, had short lines all day.

There is no excuse for these types of issues. Reforming New York’s voting system starts by embracing early voting, which allows citizens to vote well in advance of Election Day. Thirty-two states permit voting from four to 45 days prior to Election Day.

In addition, New York should do away with the excuses required to qualify for an absentee ballot. Many other states, including New Jersey, allow no-excuse absentee voting. However, in New York, voters must first prove they will be out of the city, or are disabled, hospitalized, or in prison facing a misdemeanor charge to get an absentee ballot.

As we continue to recover from Sandy, debates have already begun about devices to protect New York from future storms. We must also engage in a debate about modernizing the law so that all New Yorkers can exercise one of our most sacred civic rights and responsibilities: voting.

Scott Stringer is Manhattan borough president.

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