NYPAN’s Struggle for Voting Rights: A question of basic fairness

From the very birth of NYPAN in Dec. 2016, one of our top priorities has been the struggle to reform New York’s shameful and undemocratic voting laws. These laws intentionally exclude millions of voters by making it difficult to register and by disallowing early voting as well as voting by absentee ballot (unless the voter has a permitted excuse). New York also has fully closed primary voting, where even voters who have no party affiliation can not decide on election day to join one party or another. All of these restrictions, not surprisingly, result in New York having one of the lowest rates of voter turnout in the country. And many of New York’s self-interested politicians, both Democrats and Republicans, have no problem with this total lack of democracy for the majority of their constituents.

NYPAN decided to take on this issue full force. We trained hundreds of pro-democracy activists about these laws and explained how they could be improved with measures such as two weeks of early voting, online registration, agency access to registration, and the elimination of the ridiculous 335 day deadline for party registrants to change their party enrollment. Voters in other states take these rights for granted and are often shocked to learn how the system works in New York.

NYPAN became the first and only organization in New York to put in place a statewide grassroots lobbying campaign where they match volunteers with legislators. The volunteers join others in the same district and they are sent in a small team to visit the legislator in their home district.

NYPAN also helped to form the statewide reform coalition called Easy Elections NY, (now Let NY Vote) which sponsored several important lobbying efforts. Just before the close of the legislative session last June, the Easy Elections coalition, with a big push from NYPAN, held an impressive rally and day of lobbying in Albany. While they did not win the changes they had hoped for, the Democratic-controlled Assembly passed the broadest and most progressive bill in decades and many Senators introduced and signed onto similar bills in their chamber. In fact, but for the control of the state Senate by the Republicans, such reforms would have become law.

Rather than be discouraged, NYPAN and its allies are planning to launch a new and bigger campaign, with new union and community group allies and with the help of thousands of progressive individuals, all of them determined to fight for democracy in New York State. And in this next session, with legislators having to stand for re-election, they hope to finally bring a bit of real participatory democracy to the state of New York.