So Gov. Andrew Cuomo has proposed an election reform bill for New York state. It’s about time, but as the old saying goes: The devil’s in the details.
The term “election reform” is mom and apple pie, but there are many derivatives to this overarching theme. And while New York has some of the most archaic election laws on the books, we have to be careful as to which reforms will actually move us forward and which will make matters worse. There’s no liberal or conservative answer to the problem; rather, it’s a mixed bag of common sense.
Yes to early voting: New York is a rare state that restricts voting to just one day. Having early voting stretch out weeks before the election is not only expensive, but it overlooks that so much can change in just a week before the election. The best route is to allow for voting on the weekend of election week, in addition to the traditional Tuesday.
No to same-day registration: Placing the burden on non-professional election inspectors who work just a few days a year, or even one, to validate the eligibility of those registering at the same time they are voting is too much to ask. The potential for fraud is just not worth it.
Yes to automatic registration: What’s wrong with automatically registering American citizens to vote once they become 18, as long as this is limited only to those with valid Social Security numbers? Yes, it would advantage the Democratic voting bloc, but more voter eligibility is healthy for a democracy.
Yes to easier ballot access: New York is notorious for kicking candidates off the ballot for the most minor technicalities. Just last year, a candidate running for the Nassau County Legislature was temporarily thrown off the ballot because his petitions stated he was running for Nassau “legislator” instead of “legislature.”
No to open primaries: This is one of the trendiest, yet most problematic, of the proposed reforms. The only people who should determine who the standard bearer for a party should be are the registered members of that particular party. In 2016, there were numerous instances in open-primary states of folks admitting to mischievously voting in the Republican primary to support a candidate they perceived would be the weakest against the eventual Democratic nominee. Many Republicans did the same in the Democratic primary. Enough of this gamesmanship; let the true believers pick their own leaders. Otherwise, party platforms stand for nothing.
Yes to voter ID: President Donald Trump dramatically overstated the extent of voter fraud. However, the claim by Democrats that fraud is nonexistent may be even more dangerous. Voter fraud is rare, but you don’t need many illegitimate votes to tilt an entire election. Al Franken won his Senate election by a smaller margin (312) than the number of votes that were suspected as being tainted (at least 393). While Democrats at their convention were despicably labeling photo ID laws as racist, they were simultaneously requiring all convention attendees to show photo ID before being allowed to enter the arena.
Yes to easier absentee balloting: New York is a dinosaur that requires voters to have specific reasons before they can cast an absentee ballot. Why? We can create a more liberal absentee voting policy, so long as we require the voter to include a copy of his or her driver’s license or other citizen-based ID.
When it comes to election reform, it indeed depends on how you define “reform.” Let’s say “yes” to greater ballot access and opportunities to vote, but “no” to any so-called reforms that weaken the integrity of the voting process.
Steve Levy, a former Suffolk County executive and state Assembly member, is now president of Common Sense Strategies, a political consulting firm.