New York makes it difficult to vote.
You get one day.
If you’re sick that day, if your car breaks down, if you have a family emergency, if you have to work overtime or if any one of a thousand and one unforeseen events arises that makes it impossible for you to get away for half an hour, you are out of luck.
Your franchise — the right to participate in a representative democracy, the right to make a difference by voting for the candidates of your choice — has been taken away by random misfortune.
We should not leave something so vital up to chance, and most states don’t. Thirty-seven states have some version of early voting. Our state senator, Betty Little, wants New York to have it, too, and it’s about time.
Now, if you know you’re going to be out of town or won’t be able to get out of your house on Election Day or if you’re just going to be too busy, you have to fill out an application for an absentee ballot and list a reason why you need it.
As nice as it is to show up at a neighborhood school or firehouse and see familiar faces and pick up something from the bake sale when you vote, the system is antiquated.
The goal is to make voting as easy as possible for as many people as possible while protecting the integrity of the process.
New York seems to have adopted the opposite philosophy: Make voting inconvenient by forcing everyone to do it on the same day, and make the absentee process cumbersome and intrusive.
Some people don’t want to list on ballot applications dates when they’re going to be out of town or reveal that they’ll be in the hospital.
Under Little’s common-sense proposal, voters will be able to go to the local Board of Elections, pick up an absentee ballot without having to give an excuse and fill it out at their leisure. Those who want to fill out the ballot on the spot and turn it in will be able to.
This is being billed as “no-excuse” absentee voting, but it is early voting by another name.
Convenience won’t solve all our problems. Lots of people still won’t vote, unfortunately. But considering how abysmal our participation rate is now, we should be doing everything we can to improve it.
It makes sense that women are leading this effort, because very often it is women who are in the position of trying to juggle numerous responsibilities — work, kids, home — and so are most likely to appreciate the inconvenience of restricting voting to certain hours on a single day.
The state’s League of Women Voters has backed no-excuse absentee ballots for decades. The state’s lieutenant governor, Kathy Hochul, helped launch the proposal in August during a meeting of New York State Women’s Suffrage.
“We want to make it easier for people to vote,” said Laura Ladd, director of the League of Women Voters of New York State.
That is simple and admirable. It’s hard to imagine an objection to it.
But it’s worth remembering that, not so long ago, various states made it almost impossible for people of color to vote and that was a critical part of a crushing system of oppression that was supported by state governments.
Liberty and access to the ballot box go hand in hand. Those politicians like Betty Little who seek to widen that access are working for the cause of liberty, and we can’t think of a better use of their time.