Unite NY works every day to engage and empower voters and work for solutions to bring more people out to vote, allow more candidates to get on the ballot and improve our democracy. Politics in New York are too polarized and our organization strongly believes that the solution to this problem is to enact reforms that give voters back their voice. By empowering more voices and giving voters more choices, democracy can flourish.
With that in mind, Unite NY has been working with lawmakers from both sides of the aisle to fight for reforms like term limits, open primaries, increased ballot access, initiative and referendum and ranked choice voting. All of these solutions will help voters to feel like their voice matters and get them back in the voting booth.
These are big changes and not easy to accomplish. However, the reception to these ideas, from both sides of the aisle, has been extremely positive. In 2023 alone, legislators have advanced dozens of proposals to enact meaningful governmental reform and ultimately restore New Yorkers faith in the process.
So two weeks ago, at the very end of the 2023 legislative session, a classic good news/bad news situation occurred. Both the Senate and Assembly passed a bill that would move most local elections to even numbered years with a stated goal of increasing voter turnout. Media reports indicate Governor Hochul will sign the legislation.
Unite NY obviously shares a strong desire to see more voters involved in our elections and we welcome any efforts put forth by our leaders to get more New Yorkers involved in the electoral process. While it is clear the sponsors of this legislation are certainly seeking to fix the right problem, it pains our organization to point out that the solution that was offered was the wrong one, for several important reasons.
First, the bill, introduced in the waning hours of session, left scant time for review or comment by the public, or elected officials who will be affected by this change. The bill was passed in the dead of night with no input from outside groups, further eroding the trust of the public that already trusts its leaders far too little.
Second, while the bill will act like a sugary energy drink to temporarily wake up turnout in local elections, it will also unfortunately drag highly polarized state and national issues into local elections that should be focused on local issues.
The goal of increasing voter turnout is laudable and should be applauded. However, electoral reform is such an important issue it deserves hearings, robust public discussion and solutions that build consensus across the political spectrum. Passing a little discussed bill with minimal discussion is simply not the answer, in fact, it only leads to more polarization and distrust voters have in our broken system.
It is time to tackle electoral reform on multiple fronts. Voters from all over the state are ready for reform and there are many legislators, including the sponsors of this bill, who share our vision to increase voter participation. Together we can find the right solutions that deliver more democracy to New Yorkers.