Expanding access is the key component to improving voting participation, voting rights advocates said during a Wednesday hearing hosted by the city’s Campaign Finance Board.
Dozens of residents, community advocates and students jammed a large conference room at 100 Church St. to voice their voting experiences and concerns from the 2017 election.
“Our government, both on the federal and state level, has demonstrated this commitment to restricting access to the ballot,” said Jacques David, a staff attorney at Harlem Community Law Office and a member of the Brooklyn Voting Alliance. “Thirty-seven states provide early voting. New York does not.”
He said other legislation that restricts New Yorkers from voting includes not offering automatic voter registration and having closed primaries.
“The ultimate goal of these efforts is to make the electorate older, whiter and more conservative by disenfranchising millions of students, low-income women and men and people of color,” said David
The advocates acknowledged that the number of voters who cast a ballot in the 2017 mayoral race increased for the first time since 2001, with more than 60,000 additional ballots. But they said that only 24 percent of the 4.5 million registered voters voted during the November election, according to the Board of Elections of the City of New York.
Dr. Christina Greer, an associate professor of political science at Fordham University and the key speaker of the evening, attributed the scarcity of voter participation to ignorance.
“As much of information that is out there, there is a lack of real civic education in our country,” she said. “On Nov. 8 many people went to the polls. However, they could have gone to the polls in April to vote for the presidential primary.”
New Yorkers have had three more opportunities to vote since the spring: in June for the congressional primary, in September for the legislature primary and in special elections for individuals who live in certain neighborhoods.
“Some people actually didn’t know that,” Greer said. “So you have organizations like NYC Votes who are trying to get as many people as possible to understand all of the different areas of government and how we can participate in a more robust fashion.”
Greer argued that some people are still trying to figure out why they should be going to the polls.”
A 2016 poll by Public Religion Research Institute shows one in five Americans have little confidence their vote will be accurately counted.
“A lot of disenfranchised voters say why should I go to the poll because nothing changes in my community,” said Malika Carderon, an associate program director at Nuevo Worldwide Institute, who credits America’s disinterest in voting to the lack of data.
She said civil engagement will fuel civil education.
“ There needs to be something that’s more tangible to the voter,” said Carderon. “ If they’re able to see a direct correlation between their vote and what happens in their community and resources coming back into their community, they’re more likely to go vote.”
Other attendees suggested voter participation can be increased through more voting drives, electronic poll books and community forums so constituents can learn about their representatives.