I hope you’ve been enjoying family and friends this Memorial Day weekend. Take a moment with me to consider the day’s importance. Each day we should honor those who serve in our Armed Forces and take care of our veterans, but on Memorial Day we honor those who have given the greatest sacrifice in support of our nation and the freedoms we enjoy.
I’ve been reflecting this past year on the state of our democracy. In New York’s last mayoral general election, turnout was a record low of only 24% of registered voters.We need to remember that as a human right, we decided long ago that we should have the right to vote. Self-government is something that the United States promotes globally. And yet, we rank internationally low on voter turnout.
With headlines like “Congressional Primary Turnout is Dismal” and politicians spending hundreds of thousands of corporate PAC dollars for such dismal turnout, we should ask what is wrong? Why are other democracies around the world voting more than us and in higher rates?
New York is behind the game in many ways at the state level. Some states allow same-day registration. In New York, if you want to register and vote in our June 24 primary, you must register 25 days in advance of the election. The deadline is this Friday to register. As well, forget crossing party lines. In other states, if you are unaffiliated or with another party and want to vote in a Democratic primary, you can do it no problem on the day of the election. New York law says that you needed to switch by last October. By my calculation, the incumbent member of Congress I plan to unseat is elected by just under 3% of the population of the district.
If voting is a right, and something we consider a sacred right, willing to give our lives for, then why then do we make it so difficult? Many states have voter ID laws. Districts are gerrymandered to confuse voters. Absentee ballot voting is only allowed in limited circumstances. Low turnout shows us something is wrong.
Let’s modernize our voting. Just a few ideas are (1) instead of opting-in to vote, it should be an opt-out system; (2) instead of voting only on Tuesdays, we should be allowed to vote Saturday through Tuesday; and (3) party affiliation should be allowed to be changed at any time. Have I mentioned too that big-money special interest spending in our elections is making voters cynical and yielding bad policy outcomes? We clearly need campaign finance reform starting with publicly funded elections.
Most important, and as I have stressed through this campaign, we need to invest more in education. There is a direct relationship between voting and registration rates and education. We need to invest more in financially achievable educational opportunities, from day care and pre-k to advanced degrees. This is our future and we must vote to claim it and prosper.
I honor those who have given the greatest sacrifice for our country, those brave men and women of our Armed Forces who fought for our freedoms, by saying that the duty is upon all of us to exercise our right to vote. Whether difficult or inconvenient, it is our most important constitutional right. We can work together, regardless of party affiliation, to make our most sacred right worthy of the most sacred sacrifice made by our veterans.
I wish you a day of quality time with friends and family and leave you with this quote of peace and love below.