In an effort to raise awareness about New York’s brand-new voting protocol, a crowd of around 30 early voting advocates gathered in rows on the steps facing the Garibaldi statue in Washington Square Park on Tuesday.
In January, the New York state legislature enacted reforms that will allow voters to fill out ballots during a nine-day period leading up to elections. The first legislation of its kind in New York, the state has joined 39 others that permit early voting procedures. New Yorkers will first have the opportunity to vote early from Oct. 26 to Nov. 3, prior to general election voting on Nov. 5 for citywide offices and a series of referendums.
The new legislation is credited with modernizing the voting process in New York — which has been plagued by some of the lowest voter turn-out rates nationwide — by allowing electronic registration for early voters.
At the rally, New York Attorney General Letitia James said her staff members will be spread out across polling sites designated for early voting during the nine days to help explain how it works to voters and streamline the process.
“We will be focusing on voter protection and access,” James said to the crowd. “It’s imperative for our democracy.”
James stressed the importance of the extended voting period and its implications on the lives of New Yorkers. The limited period during which New Yorkers can vote, the long wait times that result and a general lack of preparedness to deal with crowds at voting sites have long drawn criticism from voting rights advocates.
“The importance of this new law cannot be overstated,” James said. “Early voting gives individuals enough flexibility and the time to vote when it works for them.”
The fight for early voting in New York has been ongoing for several years and was a tedious effort, according to Citizens Union Policy Director Rachel Bloom.
“It is no small lift to accomplish,” Bloom said. “This took decades to accomplish.”
The new mandate also allows 16- and 17-year-olds in the state of New York to pre-register for voting, intending to combat the consistently low turnout among eligible voters aged 18-29.
Encouraging younger demographics to vote, particularly college students, is one aim of Generation Vote at NYU — NYU’s first voting rights organization — said its founder, CAS sophomore Robi Lopez-Irizarry.
“We want to make sure that students know early voting is happening,” Lopez-Irizarry said. “Next semester, we’re going to be doing research to actually find out what student voting practices are at NYU.”
Lopez-Irizarry founded the club last semester and said that future efforts of the club involve efforts to designate the general election day for the 2020 presidential election next year as a university holiday.
Voters can locate their early polling places and their hours on the NYC Votes website.
Email Lisa Cochran at [email protected]