Even though turnout was higher than normal in this off-year election, about half of those eligible to vote did not. Now, we need to consider the changes that would make the biggest difference and the fate they face in Albany.
With Democrats controlling the Legislature and all statewide elective offices, whatever they want can happen. It will be instructive to see if the Republicans who now make up a minority in both Senate and Assembly join this crusade of if they continue to obstruct measures that would make voter registration and voting easier.
New York Republicans are not like those in Kansas or Georgia or elsewhere, tirelessly working to restrict access to the polls, closing polling places in minority communities and rejecting other changes. But they have in the past done their best to obstruct common-sense proposals to increase registration and turnout. If they are interested in climbing their way back up to relevancy in New York state, they will welcome the chance to expand voting rights and voting participation. If they continue to oppose these measures, then they can expect a much longer stay in the political wilderness.
Republicans elsewhere have been very open about their obstructive tendencies. They know that the larger the turnout, the more likely the Democrats are to win. So Democrats work harder to register young people and immigrants and minorities, to get more of those people to vote in primary and general elections.
New York Democrats know all this and know that if they are going to stay in power, they need to change the electoral map in the state, one that for decades has relied on excessive margins in New York City to balance the Republican support in virtually all other areas. The dramatic shift in power in the state Senate cannot be sustained by Democrats without expanding that base outside the city.
With all of that incentive, Democrats need to work quickly and there are lots of rich targets.
They need to consolidate the state’s two primaries into one in June, close the loophole that lets some businesses contribute virtually unlimited amounts, establish instant registration, make it easier to get on the ballot and change party registration, enable early voting, invest in the machinery and personnel necessary to ensure efficient operations at all polling places.
Those are easy and all should be in place in the first months of the new legislative session. If not, Democrats in the Assembly and Senate, especially those from this district, should have to explain why they have failed.
Then they could get to work on the harder, more controversial proposals, the ones that would reduce the influence of big donors, increase public funding for campaigns, consolidate other voting dates for school and special district elections, get rid of the ability of candidates to run on multiple party lines. Those should be in place by the end of the session in June.
Finally, they should begin work to reduce the influence of political parties by establishing a true runoff system, one that lets the two top vote-getters compete if no one gets more than 50 percent of the vote.